HOUSTON - The head of Carnival Cruise Lines said Tuesday his company was working hard to ensure the thousands of passengers stranded on a 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 CEO 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."
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.
Carnival officials said the ship does not have propulsion and was about 250 miles south of Mobile as of Tuesday afternoon. A second tugboat has arrived at the disabled ship to tow it to Mobile. The Triumph was being towed at 8 mph and 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.
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."
After the ship gets to Mobile on Thursday, passengers will stay in either Mobile or New Orleans before they are flown to Houston on Friday. They will then be transported to the Galveston, where their vehicles are parked.
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.
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.
AJ 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."
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."
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, were 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."
Passengers on recent voyages said the ship had propulsion problems then, too.
"They knew about it way in advance," said Mindy Dlouhy, who was on Triumph from Jan. 28 to Feb. 2. "I don't know why they just kept putting people on the ship."
Dlouhy took photos of a truck delivering spare ship parts when Triumph docked in Progresso.
Heidi Hill was on the ship on the voyage before Dlouhy's. She said Triumph had be tugged to Cozumel.
"Now people are stuck out there in horrible conditions," Hill said. "It all could have been prevented."
Carnival said Monday that the previous problems were not related to the fire.
"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."
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.
Copyright 2013 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.