Reporting from San Diego — Pulled by two tugboats, the disabled cruise ship Carnival Splendor is expected to arrive here Thursday, as the company tries to make amends with 3,299 passengers whose holiday in the Mexican Riviera went sour.
"We know we ruined their vacations," said Gerry Cahill, president and chief executive of Carnival Cruise Lines.
Since an engine compartment caught fire Monday morning, the passengers and 1,167 crew members have been without air conditioning or hot food.
The dream of sumptuous banquets was replaced by meals of bread, canned Spam, canned fruit, canned milk and munchies such as Pop Tarts — delivered by U.S. Navy airlift from the carrier Ronald Reagan.
Late afternoon Wednesday, the 952-foot ship was reportedly 74 nautical miles from San Diego and traveling at 5.6 knots. Cahill said he hopes the ship will arrive by midday Thursday. It will take a couple of hours for passengers to disembark.
In telephone calls to friends on dry land, passengers have talked of boredom, disappointment and long lines for food.
But the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent food service and health technicians to the ship, reported that passengers and crew are doing well, with no major medical problems.
The biggest inconvenience — the lack of flush toilets — was cured within hours of the fire.
No one was injured in the fire, which broke out on the first day of a scheduled seven-day trip from Long Beach to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Cahill said the fire was "fairly surprising" because the ship is only 2 years old.
To make amends for the ruined vacations, Carnival has agreed to offer a full refund, reimbursement for travel expenses and a free cruise of comparable value. Hotel reservations and travel accommodations from San Diego are being made by company workers.
The first tugboat reached the ship Tuesday about 150 miles southwest of San Diego. It was later joined by a second tug. Three other tugs are following the ship in case additional pulling power is needed.
The Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau is also following the Carnival Splendor, ready to provide assistance if needed.
Some passengers slept on an open-air deck. Games were organized to keep hundreds of children active. Adults played cards and waited in food lines.
"They signed up for a great cruise vacation and obviously that's not what they received," Cahill said.