Passengers From Nightmare Cruise Head Home

By: CNN/AP/KBTX staff Email
By: CNN/AP/KBTX staff Email

Update: Fri. 2:35 P.M.

After enduring five days stuck on a disabled cruise ship with overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul smells, passengers from the Carnival ship Triumph are making their way home.

The ship docked late last night in Mobile, Ala., where passengers boarded buses to the departure port of Galveston, Texas, or to New Orleans -- where hotel rooms and flights home awaited them.

Nearly 2,000 passengers arrived at a New Orleans Hilton in the wee hours. By dawn, many were headed out again to fly to Houston -- to get a connecting flight home or a chartered bus back to their cars in Galveston.

Hundreds are arriving by bus in Galveston -- with many facing a long drive home from there.

Meanwhile, tugs have pulled the disabled ship away from the dock, and toward a shipyard where city officials say it will be repaired.

Planes are shuttling more than 2,000 passengers of the damaged Carnival Triumph cruise ship to Houston for the final leg of a long journey home.

A spokeswoman for Bush Intercontinental Airport says Carnival Cruise Lines has contracted with Delta Air Lines for 11 flights Friday from New Orleans to Houston.

Some passengers who fled the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph and left Alabama aboard charter buses suffered yet another setback on their way home when one of the buses broke down.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen says a bus got sidelined Friday on the way to New Orleans after leaving Mobile, Ala.

He says another bus was available and those aboard were transferred and continued to New Orleans where they arrived safely later Friday morning.

The ship carrying some 4,200 people and under tow by tugboats docked late Thursday, after an engine-room fire Sunday left it powerless and adrift.

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board is in Mobile, Ala., to look into the cause of the engine fire aboard the Carnival cruise ship Triumph.

The fire left the ship drifting and paralyzed, with passengers enduring days of heat and stench. It finally arrived last night in Mobile after being towed to shore.

A spokesman says the NTSB will be working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which will serve as the primary investigative agency. The government in the Bahamas is taking the lead because the Triump is registered there, and it was in international waters at the time of the fire.

According to the NTSB spokesman, the agency could take information from the probe and use it to make recommendations for improving cruise ship safety.

Update: Fri. 2:37 A.M.

Passengers from a disabled cruise ship have arrived at a hotel in New Orleans after a days-long odyssey in the Gulf of Mexico that was marked by overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.

Buses arrived at the Hilton in New Orleans early Friday and were greeted by paramedics with wheelchairs to roll in passengers who were elderly or too fatigued to walk.

Many were tired and didn't want to talk. There were long lines as they waited to get checked into rooms.

Update: Thurs. 11:30PM

MOBILE, Ala. - The first of some 3,000 passengers are starting to come off a cruise ship disabled for days at sea.

More than a dozen of those passengers are from the Brazos Valley.

At about 10:15 p.m. Central time some aboard the Triumph were walking down an enclosed gangway to a terminal at Mobile, Ala.

As people started disembarking, others on board waiting were chanting, "Let me off, let me off!"

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized on the public address system to passengers.

Passengers have the option of a seven-hour bus ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. Buses are standing by to take them to their next stop.

UPDATE FROM AP AT 9:18:
MOBILE, Ala. - A cruise ship disabled for days at sea has pulled into the port at Mobile, Ala., but passengers who have described miserable conditions aboard still have hours to wait before they can walk on solid ground.

The Triumph was pulling into port at about 9:15 p.m. Central 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 are lining the decks waving, cheering loudly and whistling to those on shore.

Carnival says the 3,000 or so passengers have the option of a seven-hour bus ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. Buses are standing by to take them to their next stop.

UPDATE FROM AP AT 8:37:

(AP) - A Carnival official says the disabled ship Triumph is now 5 miles from the cruise terminal.

Terry Thornton says the ship is now expected to arrive between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Central time Thursday.

He said warm food, blankets, cellphones await passengers.

He said the ship would be taken Friday to a nearby repair facility to be assessed.

Four days ago, the 893-foot ship was crippled by an engine-room fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 4,000 people are on board.

UPDATE FROM AP AT 7:46:

(AP) Dozens of chartered buses from several Gulf Coast states have gathered in the port of Mobile, near where a disabled cruise ship under tow is expected to dock in coming hours.

The buses with markings from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, appeared to be part of a plan by the Carnival cruise company to transport many disembarking passengers from the ship to Louisiana and Texas.

When passengers of the ill-fated Triumph arrive at Mobile's terminal, their stay will be short. Carnival said passengers would be given the option of boarding buses directly to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston - a roughly seven-hour drive - or taking a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans in Louisiana.

Galveston is listed as the ship's home port.

UPDATE FROM AP AT 5:45:

The Carnival Triumph is expected to reach the port between 9:30 and 11:00pm.

__________

UPDATE FROM AP AT 4:45PM

(AP) - The disabled cruise ship Triumph has entered Mobile Bay and is out of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Carnival ship entered the bay about 4 p.m. Central time Thursday.

The ship is still about 30 miles from the cruise terminal in Mobile. It's expected to arrive there late Thursday.

The bay is tricky to navigate because of turns and cross currents.

The cruise ship has been at sea for a week. An engine-room fire Sunday left the ship powerless. More than 4,000 people are on board the Triumph, and passengers face long bus rides or other travel hassles to get home once they arrive in Alabama.

_____________

UPDATE FROM AP AT 3:45PM

(AP) - A Carnival official says a snapped towline has delayed the disabled Triumph's expected arrival in Mobile.

Terry Thornton said about 3:25 p.m. Central time that the cruise ship was seven to 10 hours from port.

Earlier Thursday, the ship had been expected to arrive in the afternoon.

Passengers on-board reported overflowing toilets, sewage backed up in showers and people getting sick.

Thornton also said that passengers would carry their own luggage once they arrive in Alabama and that only one elevator is functioning on the Triumph.

An engine-room fire Sunday left the ship powerless. More than 4,000 people are on board the Triumph, and passengers face long bus rides or other travel hassles to get home once they arrive in Alabama.

_______________

UPDATE FROM AP AT 2:38PM

(AP) - A Coast Guard official says a disabled cruise ship off the coast of Alabama is again moving toward the shore after a broken towline delayed the vessel's slow journey back to port.

Petty Officer William Colclough says a new tugboat has been secured and the Carnival Triumph is again making its way into Mobile.

He says the ship will be further delayed because of the towline issue, though he did not give a new estimated arrival time.

It had been expected to arrive Thursday night.

An engine-room fire Sunday left the ship powerless. More than 4,000 people are on board the Triumph, and passengers face long bus rides or other travel hassles to get home once they arrive in Alabama.

__________

UPDATE FROM AP AT 10:45AM

A Carnival spokesman says the towing of a disabled cruise ship that has been stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for days is taking longer than anticipated.

Spokesman Vance Gulliksen says the Triumph is now expected to arrive alongside the cruise terminal in Mobile between 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday. Earlier, it had been expected Thursday afternoon.
Gulliken says four tugs are towing the vessel.

Passengers have described dismal, filthy conditions on board, but the company has disputed the accounts and says employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.

An engine-room fire Sunday left the ship powerless. More than 4,000 people are on board.

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CNN STORY

(CNN) -- Squalid, smelly and steamy, the crippled ship Carnival Triumph limped toward port Thursday, its passengers and crew looking forward to an end to their hellish cruise.

The laborious slog through the Gulf of Mexico tested not only the senses of the thousands on board, but their patience as well.

Rough weather overnight slowed the Triumph and the three tugboats leading it to Mobile, Alabama, and the ship is now expected to arrive at the port by 7 p.m. (8 p.m. ET), according to an official brief on plans for the ship's recovery. It had been expected by 3 p.m.

It's been a nightmare five days for the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members on board the 900-foot, 14-story Triumph, where a fire broke out in the engine room early Sunday.

Much of the ship's electrical power went down in the fire, causing widespread malfunctions, including taking out sanitary systems.

Passengers have reported sewage sloshing around in hallways, flooded rooms and trouble getting enough to eat.
Jorge Rodriguez, a doctor of internal medicine, said the sordid conditions on board make the Triumph a "floating petri dish."

"So far, there hasn't been an outbreak of anything, but ... it's in the Gulf. It's warm," he said. "You don't have sanitary conditions, so hopefully they'll get back to shore ... before anything breaks out."

Raw sewage is a major health risk, Rodriguez said, but respiratory infections could also spread quickly. Spoiling food could unleash E. coli bacteria, salmonella and other types of food poisoning.

"People on that cruise need to be careful for the next day to couple of weeks," he said. "They may have contracted something that's just sort of festering under the surface and won't come to full-blown infectious status for the next couple of weeks."

Carnival promises an army of about 200 employees will take care of its passengers once they clear customs.

Passengers can board buses to Galveston or Houston, Texas, or spend the night in a hotel in New Orleans.

Carnival said it has reserved and arranged approximately 100 motor coaches, more than 1,500 New Orleans hotel rooms, multiple charter flights from New Orleans to Houston on Friday and transportation from Houston to the Port of Galveston so that guests may retrieve their cars if they drove to the port.

The cruise line said it would give each passenger $500, a free flight home, a full refund for their trip and for most expenses on board, as well as a credit for another cruise.

Brent Nutt, whose wife, Bethany, is on the ship, said it's not worth it.

"First of all, we only paid $350 for her to go on this cruise. Her safety and her well-being are worth a whole lot more than $350," he said.

And the free stuff?

"I promise you, none of my family members that are on there will probably ever, ever take another cruise," he said.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the cause of the engine room fire. Because the Carnival Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel, the Bahamas Maritime Authority is the primary investigative agency.

Travelers have few options for compensation in these cases, other than what the cruise line is already offering, according to travel expert Jason Clampet of Skift.com, a travel website.

"The passengers on the ship aren't going to have a great deal of recourse when they get home," he said. Travel "insurance really doesn't cover this sort of thing. Their trip wasn't interrupted and they aren't incurring extra expenses ... so they can't be compensated that way."

Still, there's no denying that the fire and resulting bad PR will hurt Carnival.

"It's a terrible sight, thinking of people trapped on a ship with limited food and filthy conditions, so I think people will think twice about taking a cruise," Clampet said.

Nerves are frayed on board, where passengers have waited in food lines for as long as four hours, said Nick Ware, whose mother is on the ship with her boyfriend. Ware said arguments are breaking out after people at the front of lines grab as many provisions as they can.

"The person in the front of the line is allowed to take however much he wants, so people see the person in front of them taking too much, (and) they start to get concerned they're not going to get any," Ware said.

People at the rear of the line ended up with buns and condiments -- no burger patties, he said.

Meanwhile, on shore, Kim McKerreghan waited at the Port of Mobile, worried about her 10-year-old daughter and her ex-husband.

Her daughter called her in a panic Sunday after the fire broke out.

McKerreghan said the call was absolutely "gut-wrenching."

"Momma, please just come get me, just come get me. It's so hot. I don't want to be here, Momma. Come get me, please," the scared daughter told her, McKerreghan said. "Your heart stops, your stomach knots up and you just want to fall to the ground."

The fire is at least the second problem for the ship since late January, when it had an issue with its propulsion system, according to a notice posted on the website of Carnival senior cruise director John Heald.

And it's not the first fire to disable one of the cruise line's ships.

In 2010, the Carnival cruise ship Splendor lost power after an engine room fire, leaving it drifting off the Pacific coast of Mexico. The USS Ronald Reagan ferried 60,000 pounds of supplies for the ship's passengers and crew as the ship was towed to San Diego.

McKerreghan drove from Texas with a friend, Mary Poret, whose preteen daughter is on board, with Poret's ex-husband.

Poret also received a frightening call from her daughter, about 30 hours after the fire.

"She was hysterical, crying hysterically. She was scared. She don't know what was going to happen next," Poret said.

"And what broke my heart the very most was her saying, 'Mommy, I don't know if I'll ever see you again,' and that's really hard to hear from your 12-year-old daughter."

After this ill-fated cruise, the Triumph won't host vacationing passengers until at least mid-April. Carnival has canceled a dozen voyages scheduled between February 21 and April 13. That makes a total of 14 scratched trips. The cruise line already had eliminated voyages slated for February 11 and February 16.


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