HOUSTON - Carnival Cruise Lines cancelled 12 additional voyages of the cruise ship Triumph after an engine fire disabled the ship and stranded thousands of passengers.
The cancelled cruises, which include sailings from Feb. 21 through April 13, are in addition to two previously cancelled voyages departing from Galveston on Feb. 11 and Feb. 16.
A third tugboat was dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday to help tow the ship to Mobile, Ala. The Triumph was being towed at 8 mph and is expected to arrive in Alabama on Thursday. Carnival officials said the ship does not have propulsion.
The Carnival Triumph left Galveston on Thursday and was supposed to return on Monday, but a fire broke out in an engine room on Sunday morning when it was about 150 miles away from the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The ship's automatic fire extinguishing systems kicked in and the fire was extinguished, officials said.
None of the 3,143 passengers or 1,086 crew members were hurt.
Once the ship gets close to shore, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers plan to take a boat out to the ship to begin processing passengers to avoid long lines when the ship docks.
Carnival said guests were given the option of boarding buses to Galveston or Houston or to spend the night in a hotel in New Orleans, where they could rest before flying out on private charters the next day.
Carnival has reserved approximately 100 motor coaches, more than 1,500 New Orleans hotel rooms, multiple charter flights from New Orleans to Houston on Friday, and transportation from Houston to the Port of Galveston so that guests may retrieve their cars if they drove to the port.
The head of Carnival Cruise Lines said his company was working hard to ensure the thousands of passengers stranded on the disabled ship in the Gulf of Mexico were as comfortable as possible while the vessel was being towed to port in Alabama.
The reassurances made by Carnival Cruise Lines President and Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill were in sharp contrast to what some passengers have told relatives about dirty and hot conditions aboard the ship, including overflowing toilets and limited access to food.
Cahill said the ship has running water and most of its 23 public restrooms and some of the guest cabin bathrooms are working. He downplayed the possibility of an outbreak of disease from unsanitary conditions, saying the ship hasn't seen an abnormal number of people reporting to the infirmary as being ill.
"No one here from Carnival is happy about the conditions onboard the ship," Cahill said at a news conference in Miami. "We obviously are very, very sorry about what is taking place."
Officials originally planned to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, but the ship drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents.
NTSB to investigate cruise ship fire
The National Transportation Safety Board is headed to Mobile to investigate why the fire started and work to find ways to prevent it from happening again.
"Because the Carnival Triumph is a Bahamian flagged vessel, the Bahamas Maritime Authority is the primary investigative agency," a statement from the NTSB read. "In accordance with international guidelines, the U.S. will participate in this investigation as a Marine Safety Investigative State."
The ship has been operating on generator power. The Carnival Elation rendezvoused with the Triumph on Sunday to provide dinners, and the Carnival Legend did the same thing on Monday.
Passengers are sleeping on the deck. Some of the toilets on the ship are functional, but there is no hot water for showers.
Kim McKerreghan said her 10-year-old daughter and husband are on Triumph. She last heard from them on Monday.
"She was hysterical," McKerreghan said about her daughter. "'Mommy, I love you. I want to come home. It's so scary. Please come get me.'"
McKerreghan drove to Mobile from Texas to pick up her family when the ship finally gets back to land.
Passenger Donna Gutzman said living conditions on board the ship are becoming unbearable.
"The worst part is the bathrooms," said Gutzman. "(There's) no water and you can't flush, so everyone is going in little plastic baggies and putting it outside their room."
Gutzman also said the ship is leaning, so she is worried it could flip over.
A.J. Jones' wife is on the Triumph. She called home when she was able to use a nearby boat's WiFi signal.
"She said they were actually having them urinate in a cup and pour it in the shower, or urinate in the shower," Jones said. "For bigger business, they're having them go in trash bags. Now what they're doing with the trash bags after that, I don't know."
Jennifer Stanfield's sister is on Triumph.
"She stood in line for three hours and there a lot of people basically hoarding food," Stanfield said. "By the time she got up there, all she could get was a hamburger and some water."
Julie Kuzin said her sister is on the Carnival Triumph.
"They've been told they can't offload the ship to other ships because of conditions out in the water," Kuzin said. "I called Carnival to find out about that and they just said they don't have ships available to do that. That's not part of their plan."
Robert Giordano, of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said he last spoke to his wife, Shannon, on Monday. She told him she waited in line for three hours to get a hot dog, and that conditions on the ship were terrible.
"They're having to urinate in the shower. They've been passed out plastic bags to go to the bathroom," Giordano said. "There was fecal matter all over the floor."
Even more distressing, Giordano said, has been the lack of information he has been able to get from Carnival, a complaint shared by Vivian Tilley, of San Diego, whose sister is also on the vessel.
Brent Nutt said he heard similar complaints from his wife who is on board.
"It smells and there is water all over the floor," Nutt said. "Water is seeping out of the walls. There's feces on the floor."
Tracie Wilburn said her mother is on the cruise with six other family members, celebrating her 69th birthday.
"I am concerned she is not comfortable," Wilburn said. "But at least with having family members, hopefully they are keeping each other cheered up somewhat."
Passengers to receive refunds, credit for future cruise
Carnival said all of the passengers will receive a full refund for the cruise, along with transportation expenses. They'll also be reimbursed for all purchases aboard the ship, except for gift shop and casino charges. They will also received a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage.
On Wednesday, Carnival officials said all passengers will also get $500 compensation.
"We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances," Cahill said. "We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure. Therefore, in addition to the full refund and future cruise credit already offered, we have decided to provide this additional compensation."
Guests booked on the cancelled voyages will receive a full refund, reimbursement for non-refundable travel expenses and a 25 percent discount on a future three- or five-day cruise or a 15 percent discount on a six- to-seven day cruise.
Carnival Triumph operates four- and five-day cruises from Galveston, Texas.
Concerned family and loved ones of guests and crew may call 888-290-5095 or 305-406-5534.
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