(MOBILE, Ala.) — The agonizingly slow progress of the stricken Carnival Triumph cruise ship carrying 4,000 passengers and crew was further delayed Thursday by problems with the tug boats towing it in, meaning exhausted passengers may not get off the ship until nearly dawn.
The ship is now expected in port between 9:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. CT, according to Carnival. It could take up to five more hours to get everybody off the huge ship.
“There are some limitations. We know that up front,” Carnival Cruise Senior Vice President of Marketing Terry Thornton said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “The ship still does not have power. We only have one functioning elevator aboard.”
Thornton said that anyone with special needs and children will be the first to get off the boat. He said the company’s number-one priority is to make the process as “quick, efficient and comfortable” for guests as possible.
“We’re not anticipating any additional difficulties,” he said.
The passengers were achingly close to port about noon Thursday as the ship began to enter the channel and proceed to the cruise terminal. At 1 p.m., the lead tow boat had a tow gear break, so a spare tug boat that was on standby had to be sent in to replace it.
But once the second tug was in position and the lines were reset, the towing resumed only briefly before the tow line snapped.
“We had to replace that tow line so the ship did not begin progressing back into the cruise terminal until 2 p.m.,” Thornton said.
Passengers desperate to get off the vessel waved at media helicopters that flew out to film the ship, and passenger Rob Mowlam told ABC News by phone Thursday that most of the passengers on board were “really upbeat and positive.”
Nevertheless, when he gets off, Mowlam said, “I will probably flush the toilet 10 times just because I can.”
Mowlam, 37, got married on board the Triumph Friday and said he and his wife, Stephanie Stevenson, 27, haven’t yet thought of redoing the honeymoon other than to say, “It won’t be a cruise.”
Alabama State Port Authority Director Jimmy Lyons said that with powerless “dead ships” like the Triumph, it is usually safer to bring them in during daylight hours, but, “once they make the initial effort to come into the channel, there’s no turning back.”
“There are issues regarding coming into the ship channel and docking at night because the ship has no power and there’s safety issues there,” Richard Tillman of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau told ABC News.
When asked if the ship could be disembarked in the dark of night, Tillman said, “It is not advised. It would be very unusual.”
Thornton denied the rumors that there was a fatality on the ship. He said that there was one illness early on, a dialysis patient, but that passenger was removed from the vessel and transferred to a medical facility.
The U.S. Coast Guard is assisting now and there are multiple generators on board. And customs officials will board the ship while it is being piloted to port to accelerate the embarkation, officials said.
After eight miserable days at sea, the ship’s owners have increased the compensation for what some on board are calling the vacation from hell.
All 3,143 passengers aboard the 900-foot colossus, which stalled in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire early Sunday, were already being given a full refund for the cruise, transportation expenses and vouchers for another cruise. Carnival Cruise Lines is now boosting that offer to include another $500 per person. Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, announced the additional compensation Wednesday.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Juliet Perry, Tim Hume and Livia Borghese, CNN
Jamie Crawford, CNN