A small boat belonging to the Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous patrols near the… (Lt. Cmdr. Paul McConnell,…)
A cruise ship that lost power because of an engine fire is being towed from the Gulf of Mexico, with many passengers sleeping on the deck to stay cool and standing in lines to get hot meals and use toilets.
The Carnival Triumph, carrying more than 3,000 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members, could reach Mobile, Ala., by Wednesday or Thursday, depending on sea conditions, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
It is the latest cruise mishap for an industry that was hoping to rebound from last year's disastrous wreck of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast. Miami-based Carnival Corp. owns the parent company that operated the Concordia as well as Carnival Cruise Lines, which owns the Triumph.
"These incidents are really, really rare, but when they happen they make big news," said Jay Herring, who worked on the Triumph for two years as a senior information system manager and wrote a book about the industry, "The Truth About Cruise Ships."
Carnival has already announced that it will issue full refunds to the passengers, plus travel expenses and credit toward a future cruise vacation.
"Every action we are taking is to get our guests home," Gerry Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines chief executive, said at a news conference Tuesday. "There is no question that conditions on the ship are very challenging."
No one was injured in the engine fire, but it left the ship without propulsion. Two tugboats were dispatched to pull the cruise ship — nearly the size of three football fields — to Mobile. When the ship arrives, investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board will begin an inquiry into the fire.
The ship departed Galveston, Texas, last week on a four-day cruise to Cozumel, an island off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Messages from passengers on the Triumph, sent to family and friends, say some of the public and cabin toilets are not operating and only limited power is available to run elevators and heat food.
Several of the text messages were printed on Cruisecritic.com, a review site for cruise vacations. The messages said the rooms were so hot without circulating air that some passengers were sleeping in tents on the deck.
The husband of a passenger said he spoke to his wife Sunday by phone. "At the time I spoke to her, there were no toilets. They were using little red bags. And no running water, no lights, except emergency lighting," he said in a message to Cruisecritic.com.
Other family members said passengers were getting cranky and some were hoarding food. Others reported that without enough power, some toilets had begun to overflow.
Greg Magee, commander of the Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous, which was sent to escort the Carnival Triumph to Mobile, said he does not plan to transfer passengers off the cruise ship, which has been listing to one side as waves crash against the hull.
"It's not a very good option. Conducting an at-seas transfer in these conditions carries a lot of risk, and you would probably be delaying their return to home port," he said.
Magee said he was in constant contact with the cruise ship commander, who has been very cooperative. "He has not requested any assistance, so we have not boarded to see conditions inside," he said.