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Passengers complain aboard crippled cruise ship

Erin Mulvaney, Houston Chronicle
Updated 1:22 pm, Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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Some passengers on the fire-disabled Carnival Triumph are reporting miserable living conditions on board, as two tug boats are bringing them to an Alabama port at a rate of a few miles per hour.

Passengers have reported thousands camping out on the deck and using their sheets as tents to avoid the sweltering heat of the lower cabins. The ship has no air conditioning, passengers have said. The food lines could take up to four hours for a hamburger, and some of the guests did not get any meat with their sandwiches, only condiments.

Guests also reported strong odors and going to the bathroom in bags because of the spotty plumbing systems.

The 4,200 passengers and crew of the ship were initially set to arrive in Galveston Monday morning, but instead spent the last two days drifting aimlessly in the Gulf waiting for rescue after a fire erupted Sunday morning in an engine room, knocking out the ship's propulsion system. They are expected to arrive in Alabama by Thursday.

No injuries were reported.

"All of our guests are safe, and we're doing everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible," Gerry Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines' president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.

The two tugboats, one from Mobile, Ala., and another from Mexico, were to tow Triumph on Monday evening to Progreso, Mexico, the closest port. But the ship had drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents, and Carnival officials decided to head to Mobile, which was just as close.

Mobile also provides simpler re-entry, officials said, noting that 900 passengers do not have passports.

The ship had been dead in the water at least 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula since the fire erupted. The ship's extinguishing systems stifled the fire.

The Triumph has been using its backup generator and passengers have had limited access to bathrooms, food and hot coffee since the engine failure.

Sunday afternoon, another cruise ship, the Carnival Elation, supplied dinners to the Triumph and Carnival Legend did the same on Monday. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous provided assistance early Monday morning.

The team on board has slowly been restoring auxiliary power to operate basic hotel functions. Public and cabin toilets are operational and some power has been restored to a few elevators and in a dining area.

Cruise officials said Carnival Triumph guests will receive a full refund of the cruise, along with transportation expenses. They will also receive a cruise credit equal to the amount paid for the current voyage, including reimbursement for most shipboard purchases during the voyage.

Triumph voyages scheduled for Feb. 11 and Saturday were canceled. Those guests will receive a full refund and a 25 percent discount on a future three to five-day cruise.

A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That was also stranded for three days with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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