MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — This is not at all how it looked in the brochure: Pulled by a tugboat at a maddeningly slow pace, the ill-fated cruise ship Carnival Triumph finally drew within sight of land yesterday as miserable passengers told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways.
Around midday, four days after the 893-foot ship was crippled by an engine-room fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, more than 4,200 passengers and crew members suffered another misfortune when the towline snapped, bringing the vessel to a dead stop just when it was getting close to port.
The towline was quickly replaced, and the long, slow journey to Mobile resumed. The ship was expected to arrive around midnight, and passengers then faced an hourslong bus ride or other travel hassles to finally get back home.
Frustrations with the cruise line were simmering on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it had taken so long to get back to dry land. The ship left Galveston, Texas, a week ago.
Television images from CNN showed passengers with signs of “Help” and “I love you” hanging from their cabin rooms. Others walked around the deck, some waving to the helicopters flying above. People in boats, presumably officials from Carnival, the Coast Guard and Customs, boarded the cruise liner.
As the vessel drew within cellphone range, passengers vented their anger, and said the crew, while accommodating, had cleaned up some of the mess aboard and made them remove their makeshift tent city on the ship’s deck.
“There’s poop and urine all along the floor,” Renee Shanar of Houston said from her cellphone aboard the ship. “The floor is flooded with sewer water ... and we had to poop in bags.”
The 14-story ship still has to negotiate a tricky, shallow shipping channel before it can dock. The channel is 600 feet wide at its southernmost end and narrows to 400 feet inside the bay. The ship is about 115 feet wide, and the ship was traveling about 5 mph before the towline snapped.
It will also take a while to get all of the people off the ship. Passengers would carry their own luggage, and only one elevator is functioning on the Triumph.
Shanar, who is on the ship with her husband, said the couple had a cabin with no windows, so they have been sleeping outside for days. She said the food has been distributed on the ninth floor, and some of the elderly have needed younger people to bring it to them. They were initially only given cold cuts, like turkey and vegetable sandwiches. Then another cruise line dropped off hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, but the line for that fare was nearly four hours long.
“And then people started getting sick from the food,” she said.
The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.
Terry Thornton, senior vice president for Carnival Cruiselines, said they received an extra generator that allowed them to serve hot food Wednesday night, and that the food services will be fully operational when they are docked.
“This is going to be a long day,” Thornton said. “There is no way we can speed up the process.”
When passengers arrive in Alabama, their stay will be short. Carnival said they were being given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston — a roughly seven-hour drive — or taking a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 hotel rooms. Those staying in New Orleans will be flown Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.
“I can’t imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus,” said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. “If I hit land in Mobile, you’d have a hard time getting me on a bus.”
Vance Gulliksen, a Carnival spokesman, also said the company chose to bus people to New Orleans because it “offered additional capacity and flexibility, which was important to us.”