(MOBILE, Ala.) — The ordeal of the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship carrying 4,000 passengers and crew appeared to be almost over, with people starting to disembark in Mobile, Ala., after days at sea without power in often squalid conditions.
After the ship arrived at port around 9:30 p.m. local time, Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill praised the ship’s crew and told reporters that he was headed on board to apologize directly to the passengers.
Passengers appeared to begin disembarking around 10:15 p.m. CT.
The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston, Texas, last Thursday and lost power Sunday after a fire in the engine room disabled the vessel’s propulsion system and knocked out most of its power.
After power went out, passengers texted ABC News that sewage was seeping down the walls from burst plumbing pipes, carpets were wet with urine, and food was in short supply. Reports surfaced of elderly passengers running out of critical heart medicine and others on board squabbling over scarce food.
“I know the conditions on board were very poor,” Cahill said. “I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests [to] that. … Clearly, we failed in this particular case.”
It could take up to five hours to get everybody off the huge ship.
“Inside the terminal, there’s also warm food available,” said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of marketing. “There are blankets, there are cell phones and refreshments available for the guests that need that or want that assistance.”
Passengers will have the options of boarding buses to Houston or Galveston, Texas, about seven hours away, or New Orleans, about two hours away, officials said.
“We have gotten our guests back to land,” Cahill said. “Now, we need to get them home. … The full resources of Carnival are working from here to get them home as quickly as we possibly can.”
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.
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.
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, were already being given a full refund for the cruise, transportation expenses and vouchers for a another cruise. Carnival Cruise Lines is now boosting that offer to include another $500 per person. Cahill announced the additional compensation Wednesday.
“We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Carnival also said that it has canceled a dozen planned voyages for the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before an engine-room fire left it powerless in the Gulf of Mexico.
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