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Stranded Carnival cruise ship expected to dock Thursday evening

February 14, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

MOBILE, Ala. -- A stranded Carnival cruise ship being towed is expected to arrive in Mobile on Thursday evening, and officials said that although unusual, they do not expect delays bringing the ship into port after dark.

A Carnival spokesman held a briefing at 10:30 a.m. CST Thursday outside the port’s cruise terminal where the ship, the Carnival Triumph, is expected to dock and relatives were already gathering.

Terry Thornton, a Carnival senior vice president, said the ship was nearing a sea buoy at the edge of the channel leading into the port, about four miles offshore, where a contingent was waiting to board that included local pilots, officials from the Bahamas, where the ship is based, from customs, the U.S. Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and Carnival. Once the ship reaches the buoy, it will take another seven to 10 hours to arrive, likely after dark, he said.

PHOTOS: Stranded cruise ship Triumph

“This is going to be a long day,” Thornton said, adding that there have been no deaths or injuries on board.

The ship's 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew have been on board the Triumph since Feb. 7, when they left Galveston, Texas, on what was supposed to be a four-day cruise to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

The trip was interrupted when a fire broke out Sunday morning in the ship’s engine room as the Triumph cruised about 150 miles off Yucatan. The fire left the ship running on generators with limited water. Passengers used cellphones to call and text home, reporting that they were sleeping in hallways, urinating in bags and waiting hours in line for limited food.

Usually, ships in the Triumph’s state, so-called “dead” ships that have lost power and are being towed, are not brought into port after dark because it’s considered dangerous, officials said. But Thornton said he did not anticipate that the ship would be delayed or barred from docking after dark.

“Our understanding is that will not happen,” he said.

He said Carnival delivered a generator and “additional provisions” to the Triumph late Wednesday, providing passengers with hot meals, and a Carnival “care team” had been brought to the port to assist relatives awaiting passengers.

Jimmy Lyons, director and chief executive of the Alabama State Port Authority, said he hoped the cruise ship would arrive before dark, but if not, “It will come in. It will not stop.”

"With a dead ship like that. A ship that doesn’t have power, it’s always better to bring it in during daylight,” Lyons told The Los Angeles Times. “Once they enter the channel, there’s no turning back.”

He also said that passengers will be disembarking by deck (in order of the deck where they're staying).

The channel leading to the port is about 400 feet wide, while the Triumph is 900 feet long, leaving little margin for error, Lyons said, adding, “It’s a pretty straightforward channel, but there are a couple doglegs -- they have to be careful.”

Given the size of the ship, he said, “once they’re in that channel, they’re committed. They can’t turn around. But with the number of tugs we have, I’m not worried.”

Four tugboats will be towing the Triumph in, with a fifth on standby, he said, holding up a diagram.

“We bring in bigger ships than this everyday, but they’re not dead,” he said.

It will take the ship -- which is moving at 4 knots, or about 4.6 miles per hour -- about an hour to make its way up the channel once it clears the mouth of the bay near Fort Morgan, Lyons said. While there are some crosscurrents in the area and low winds, Lyons said it will still be “a pretty smooth passage,” although it could take another two to three hours for the ship to be tied up and for passengers to disembark.

Then the Triumph is expected to be taken across the channel to a shipyard for repairs, he said.

Port officials were taking television crews out from the port to view the channel entrance from nearby Pinto Island on Thursday afternoon, where they expect to get a first glimpse of the ship approaching shore.

Thursday afternoon, CNN began broadcasting footage of the Triumph being towed across waves glittering in the afternoon sun.

Relatives kept vigil at the port as the ship neared.

Mike Padilla, 49, of Richmond, Texas, had neighbors watch his two children and drove overnight to fetch his wife, whom he helped send on the cruise as a surprise 40th birthday present. She was traveling with a friend from home, her mother, who lives in Antioch, Calif., and a friend from Sacramento, he said. It was also his wife's first cruise.

“It seems like it’s chaos. Carnival has been helpful, but less than clear on information,” he said as he tried to call his wife after receiving a brief text message saying, “Are you getting this?”

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