MOBILE, ALA.: A cruise ship disabled for days at sea was pulled into port Thursday night, but passengers who have described miserable conditions aboard still had hours to wait before they could walk on solid ground.
The Carnival Triumph arrived at port at 10:15 p.m. Eastern time Thursday after taking about six grueling hours to be towed from the mouth of Mobile Bay some 30 miles to the port.
Anxious passengers lined the decks waving, cheering loudly and whistling to those on shore.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ CEO Gerry Cahill apologized to guests at a news conference, saying he appreciated the patience of the 3,000 passengers on board.
He said Carnival prides itself on providing people with a great vacation “and clearly we failed in this particular case.”
He said he planned to go aboard the ship and personally apologize to passengers.
Passengers had told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways during a voyage that turned out to be nothing like the brochure.
Around midday Thursday, four days after the 893-foot ship was crippled by an engine-room fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the more than 4,200 passengers and crew members suffered another misfortune with towline issues that brought the vessel to a dead stop just when it was getting close to port.
The towline was replaced, and the crawl to Mobile resumed.
Frustrations with the cruise line simmered on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it had taken so long to get back to dry land.
The ship left Galveston a week ago.
Television images from CNN showed passengers with signs of “Help” and “I love you” hanging from their cabin rooms.
As the vessel drew within cellphone range, passengers vented their anger.
Renee Shanar of Houston was on board with her husband, who she said has heart trouble. They were told they will be among the first to disembark, she said.
“I don’t believe them, they’ve been lying to us from the beginning,” Shanar said.
Disgusted by the foul air and heat on the lower decks, many passengers hauled mattresses and bed sheets onto the top deck and slept there, even staying put in a soaking rain. As the ship approached the coast, a slew of Carnival workers removed the bedding and took it downstairs.
“Today they cleaned the ship, they’re serving better food, covering up basically, but at least they’re making it more bearable,” said Kalin Hill of Houston, who boarded the Triumph as part of a bachelorette party.
In a text message, though, she described deplorable conditions over the past few days.
“The lower floors had it the worst, the floors ‘squish’ when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors,” Hill wrote. “Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes.”
Shanar said passengers initially were given only cold cuts, such as turkey and vegetable sandwiches. Then another cruise line dropped off hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, but the line for that fare was nearly four hours long, she said.
“There’s poop and urine all along the floor,” she said. “The floor is flooded with sewer water … and we had to poop in bags.”
Tricky to dock
The 14-story ship had to negotiate a tricky, shallow shipping channel, and was thought to be the largest cruise liner ever to dock in Mobile. The channel narrows to 400 feet inside Mobile Bay, and the ship is 115 feet wide.
The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable.
Terry Thornton, senior vice president for Carnival Cruise Lines, said the ship received an extra generator that allowed hot food to be served.
The ship was about 150 miles off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source Sunday, crippling its water and plumbing systems and leaving it adrift on only backup power.
No one was injured in the fire, but a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution.
In addition, the Coast Guard said in a statement Thursday that it evacuated a passenger who reportedly suffered a stroke.
Carnival said the original plan was to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, because it was the closest port, but by the time tugboats arrived, the ship had drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents, putting it nearly equidistant to Mobile.
It was also logistically easier for the company, which said costs were not a factor.
Some travel agents said cruise prices and bookings have not been affected by the disabled Carnival ship, but others in the industry say it’s too early to tell.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the company tried to keep families updated and established a toll-free number for friends and relatives.
Gulliksen said about 200 Carnival employees were in Mobile waiting to assist passengers upon their arrival.
Carnival has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room fire.
Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.
Once docked, the ship will be idle through April.