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Stranded Carnival ship delayed hours by tugboat problems

February 14, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

MOBILE, Ala. -- A Carnival cruise ship being towed to port in Mobile on Thursday has been delayed several hours -- first when some towing equipment broke and again when a tow line snapped -- but was still expected to arrive late Thursday night, a Carnival spokesman said.

Still, the arrival could drag into early Friday morning, authorities concede. And no matter when the ship makes land, it will still take four to five hours for thousands of passengers and crew members to disembark.

A passenger was also removed from the ship Monday for treatment in Mobile after suffering an unspecified medical problem, according to Terry Thornton, Carnival vice president of planning, who held a briefing at about 3 p.m. Central Time outside the port.

Thornton said he did not know whether the passenger was an adult or child, what condition the individual suffered or whether the person was hospitalized. Another passenger, a woman, had to be removed from the ship Monday for dialysis, Thornton has said.

A Carnival spokesman told the Los Angeles Times there have been no deaths or serious injuries aboard the Triumph since it left Galveston, Texas, last Thursday on what was supposed to be a four-day cruise to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The ship lost power off the Yucatan coast Sunday after an engine fire.

The Triumph, carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew, was being towed into Mobile by four tugboats stationed around the ship until about 1 p.m. Thursday, when a tow gear on the lead tug boat broke. A fifth tug officials had kept on standby was attached to the Triumph with a tow line that broke shortly afterward.

“The ship was dead still and you've got a 9,000-ton tug pulling on it — it probably just gave,” said Jimmy Lyons, chief executive of the Alabama State Port Authority.

Lyons said the tow line is 5 to 6 inches wide, made of wire rope and nylon, and the tow gear is steel welded to the back of the tug.

Officials replaced the line and, the ship set sail again at about 2 p.m., Thornton said.

As of 3 p.m., the Triumph had entered the Mobile shipping channel and was expected to dock in seven to 10 hours, Thornton said.

“We did lose time with the two tugboat issues,” he said.

Arriving after dark, possibly in the wee hours Friday, was not a concern, both men said.

“We don’t expect any particular difficulties docking at night,” he said. “We have tugs in place now, so if there is another tow line problem we could put that in place.”

Lyons said that if another line breaks when the Triumph is in the shipping channel, which is too narrow for it to turn around, the tugs will still keep it moving. He said winds, currents, tides and other conditions were all favorable.

“There’s no danger at all to the ship — those are big horsepower tugs out there,” he said.

Once the ship docks, Thornton said, it probably will take another four to five hours for passengers to disembark, especially given that the 900-foot ship still lacks power and has one working elevator.

He said passengers with special needs and children will allowed to leave the ship first. Passengers will be expected to carry their own luggage off the ship, but Carnival will have a “luggage brigade” of crew stationed at the stairs to assist.

After the briefing, Thornton boarded a golf cart and was spirited away before passengers’ relatives, crowded around a police tape barrier, could ask questions.

Rusty Adkins, 41, of Indianapolis, who came to pick up his 18-year-old daughter and other relatives stranded on the Triumph, lingered nearby, hoping someone from Carnival would appear to talk to them.

“I was glad to hear that they’re willing to try to provide for us while we’re here,” he said, but, “We’ve not gotten to speak to him at all. It’s frustrating.”

He said he went inside the port’s cruise terminal earlier in the day but couldn’t find any Carnival staff. He said he planned to check again soon.

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