HOUSTON - Thousands of cruise ship passengers are getting a refund and a free cruise after their dream vacations turned into a nightmare for all aboard.
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.
Carnival officials said the ship doesn't have propulsion and is waiting for a tugboat to arrive to tow the ship to Mobile, Alabama. One other tugboat arrived Monday evening.
The cruise ship is expected to arrive in Alabama on Thursday.
"We had originally planned to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, the closest port to the ship's location early Sunday. Since that time, the ship has drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents. This now puts the ship nearly equidistant to Mobile, Alabama and given the strength of the currents, it is preferable to head north to Mobile, rather than attempt to tow against them," said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival, in a statement released Monday evening.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter is waiting next to the ship, Carnival officials said. Sixty to 70 members with Sector Houston Galveston are headed out there to help the crew and guests. They are expected to get there early Tuesday.
The ship has been operating on generator power. The Carnival Elation rendezvoused with the Triumph on Sunday to provide dinners, and the Carnival Legend will do 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.
Marisa Mireles' mother Janie Esparza is one of the many stranded passengers. Mireles said the only contact she's received from her mother has been through troubling text messages.
"Getting no info from the crew. I love you all..." Esparza wrote to her daughter. "Please pray that we get help. People are getting frustrated."
Passenger Donna Gutzman said living conditions on board the ship are becoming unbearable.
"The worst part is the bathrooms," said Gutzman. "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.
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."
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.
The next two scheduled voyages on Carnival Triumph, scheduled for Monday and Saturday, have been canceled. Guests booked on those 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.
"Twenty of us came down here as a family to go on a cruise," said Angelle, who was supposed to be on Monday's voyage. "A lot of us cried because this was a once in a lifetime thing."
KPRC Investigates discovered Carnival Triumph had one other mechanical failure back in 2010.
Concerned family and loved ones of guests and crew may call 888-290-5095 or 305-406-5534.
Former passengers talk about problems on ship
Some people who recently took a cruise on Carnival Triumph said they were not shocked that there were problems with this cruise.
Rick Dow and his wife, Cecilila, took a trip on the ship at the end of January.
Not long after the ship set sail, plans changed.
"They announced they have a problem with the propulsion system and couldn't reach speed they normally use, so we couldn't go to the further destination," Dow said.
Dow said the cruise was cut short, which meant they didn't get to go to Cozumel.
"There were a significant number of people who were really upset," Dow said.
Dow said many customers weren't happy with the "compensation" they received.
"To miss half your destinations and be given a token $50 credit for that ... just didn't sit well with a lot of people," Dow said.
KPRC Local 2 asked Carnival about the previous problems.
"Carnival Triumph previously experienced an electrical issue with one of the ship's alternators," a statement from the company read. "Repairs were conducted by the alternator supplier and were fully completed on February 2. There is no evidence at this time of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on Feb. 10."
What rights to passengers have if their cruise doesn't go well?
"Their rights are limited," KPRC Local 2 legal analyst Brian Wice said. "When you board the ship, after having purchased a ticket, you are not going to be able to recover all of that much."
Wice said when a passenger boards a ship, they have entered into a contract with the carrier. That contract limits the company's liability.
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