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Nightmare aboard Carnival Triumph finally ends

Jayme Fraser and Cindy Georg, Houston Chronicle
Updated 1:43 am, Friday, February 15, 2013

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  • The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is towed towards Mobile Bay near Dauphin Island, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with over 1,000 passengers aboard has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press / AP
    The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is towed towards Mobile Bay near Dauphin Island, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with over 1,000 passengers aboard has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press

 

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Carnival Triumph statistics
— Year built and first cruise: 1999.
— Length: 893 feet.
— Width at widest point: 116 feet.
— Passenger capacity: Up to 3,400 (all beds filled).
— Onboard staff: About 1,100.
— Number of decks (including spa, sky and sun decks): 14.
— Cruising speed: 21 knots, or about 24 mph.
— Amenities: Eateries, bars, dance club floor, giant LED movie screen, 9-hole mini-golf course, waterslide, padded jogging track, sliding sky dome, gymnasium, steam saunas.
— Home port: Galveston, Texas.
— Registry: The Bahamas.
 
— AP / carnival.com

 

Video

 

 

Timeline

Feb. 7, 2013: The Triumph departs Galveston for a four-day Caribbean cruise.

Feb. 10, 2013: A fire erupts in the ship's engine room, disabling the vessel's propulsion system and knocking out most of its power. It is set adrift 150 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula.

Feb. 11, 2013: Carnival officials say the ship has drifted so far north it will be towed to Mobile, Ala. instead of Progreso, Mexico. Tugboats arrive.

Feb. 12, 2013: National Transportation Safety Board announces it has opened an investigation into the engine-room fire.

Feb. 13, 2013: Carnival officials announce they have canceled a dozen more scheduled voyages for the Triumph.

Feb. 14, 2013: When the ship is within sight of Alabama, the tow gear of one of the tugboats breaks. A new tugboat is secured but once the towing begins, the towline breaks. The line is repaired and the Triumph resumes its journey to Mobile.

Source: Associated Press

Page 1 of 1

MOBILE, Ala. - Freedom from the five-day nightmare of a crippled cruise ship came late Thursday night when the Carnival Triumph finally docked and thousands of stranded passengers disembarked.

Relief for the weary came around 9:30 p.m. when the boat pulled into the Port of Mobile.

Shortly after, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill spoke briefly with reporters, then said he was boarding the ship to personally apologize to passengers.

"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation," he said. "I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting the guests to that."

Onlookers cheered as passengers began to descend from the enormous boat around 10:15 p.m.

Houstonian Ruby Dunn was met in Mobile by her husband, Ronnie, who showed up to drive her and another couple back to Texas. The group bypassed Carnival's chartered buses as well as a seemingly endless line of taxis and limousines.

"Glad to be on the ground," Dunn said. "The cruise was the longest the last two hours. Everything else was patience."

Cleaning up

Scheduled arrivals on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon were delayed by uncooperative winds and a snapped tug line.

The desperate conditions that persisted all week after a fire broke out in the engine room on Sunday improved as the vessel neared shore. Cleaning crews had made enough progress with sewage-soiled ship that the stench had begun to erode.

"The crew is cleaning like crazy," Houston resident Dawn Eubanks, 59, told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday evening, hoping the scramble wasn't an effort to impress Carnival brass or the media. "It smells good. You don't smell the sewage smell anymore."

Carnival Vice President Terry Thornton said guest care and logistics teams would greet the deboarding passengers. Warm food, blankets and cellphones were available in the terminal.

"Our biggest focus is to move the people as quickly as possible onto the roughly 100 motorcoaches that are waiting," he said.

Passengers would be shuttled to Galveston or New Orleans.

The four-day cruise left Galveston on Feb. 7 and was expected to return on Monday.

After sailing to Mexico, where some passengers enjoyed an excursion on Saturday, the Triumph returned to the seas and the anything-you-desire ambience. Trouble started early Sunday morning when flames shut down equipment.

"The cruise started out great," Eubanks said. "Then Sunday at 5, it all changed. It became hell, and it's been hell."

The ship lost power, and conditions quickly deteriorated.

Toilets began to overflow. Eventually, sewage backed up and began to soil the floors and run down the walls. Food was rationed.

For several days, passengers reported eating meatless sandwiches with tomatoes or onions.

Passengers dragged mattresses onto decks to escape stuffy cabins. They existed without air conditioning and little running water.

Supplies flown in

After a cold, rainy Wednesday night that drove passengers off of decks and back into their smelly rooms, passengers said the situation improved on Thursday.

A helicopter delivered an extra generator and supplies so that passengers could enjoy hot food in the final hours of the crawl into port, Thornton said.

Lunch included steak, lobster, barbecue, burgers and pastries. Bands played.

Details of the ordeal emerged starting around 11 a.m. Thursday when passengers' cellphones began receiving reception, photos began showing up on social media and some passengers spoke to loved ones for the first time in four days.

Houston pastor Gregg Patrick, who leads the Southwest Community Christian Center, known as The Bridge, is among the passengers who texted relatives on Thursday.

His son, Kris Patrick, said the preacher was doing well considering the circumstances.

"I'm not worried for his loss of life. … I'm more concerned for his health being in a filthy situation," said Kris Patrick, who cruised on the Triumph in June with relatives without incident. "His back is hurting because they have people sitting in beach chairs for long hours, and he already has a bad back."

Previous trouble

The Carnival cruise line acknowledged the ship had addressed recent mechanical trouble before the Triumph left Galveston, but said that issue has not been linked to the fire on Sunday.

The earlier incident was an electrical issue with one of the ship's alternators, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said.

The ship with 4,200 people aboard, including about 1,000 crew members, was left floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Three tugboats pulled the crippled 893-foot ship a few miles per hour toward Mobile.

The guests will receive a full refund 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.

Additionally, the cruise line decided Wednesday to offer the passengers $500 per person on board.

"I'm glad they're reimbursing us, and I'm glad we're getting $500," Jen Hilz of Argyle said, adding that she won't be accepting Carnival's offer for another free cruise. "I'd rather have some free plane tickets. Vegas maybe? I could go gamble that $500 away."

 

Jayme Fraser reported from Mobile, Ala.