February 14, 2013

Cruise ship in tow, Carnival under fire

The Triumph experienced other mechanical problems in the weeks before a crippling engine-room blaze.

The Associated Press

HOUSTON - Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled a dozen more voyages aboard 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.

click image to enlarge

A tugboat, right, assists the 893-foot Carnival Triumph on Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, with 4,000 people on board, is en route to Alabama after a fire Sunday left it powerless

The Associated Press

The company's announcement on Wednesday came as the Triumph was being towed to port in Mobile, Ala., with more than 4,000 people on board, some of whom have complained to relatives that conditions on the ship are dismal and that they have limited access to food and bathrooms.

The ship will be idle through April. Two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday's fire.

Debbi Smedley, a passenger on a recent Triumph cruise, said the ship had trouble on Jan. 28 as it was preparing to leave Galveston. Hours before the scheduled departure time, she received an email from Carnival stating the vessel would leave late because of a propulsion problem. Passengers were asked to arrive at the port at 2 p.m., two hours later than originally scheduled.

The ship did not sail until after 8 p.m., she said.

"My mother is a cruise travel agent so this is not my first rodeo. I have sailed many, many cruises, many, many cruise lines. This was, by far, I have to say, the worst," said Smedley, of Plano, Texas.

After losing power on its most recent journey, the ship drifted until Tuesday, when two tugboats began moving it toward shore. A third tugboat was en route Wednesday from Louisiana.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the fire.

Passengers have had limited cellphone service because of the power failure, but many were able to make calls to friends and family when the Triumph rendezvoused with another Carnival ship that dropped off food and supplies. The other ship had a working cellular antenna.

Robert Giordano of Edmond, Okla., said he last spoke to his wife Shannon, who is a passenger on the ship, 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 ... 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 from Carnival, a complaint shared by Vivian Tilley of San Diego, whose sister is also on the vessel.

Carnival, Tilley said, has not told families where passengers will stay or provided precise information about when they will arrive in Mobile. The ship's original towing destination was Progreso, Mexico.

Tilley said her sister, Renee Shanar of Houston, told her the cabins were hot and smelled like smoke from the engine fire, forcing passengers to stay on the deck. She also said people were getting sick.

"It's a nightmare," Tilley said, noting Shanar and her husband chose a four-day cruise so they wouldn't be away from their two daughters for too long.

Meanwhile, officials in Mobile are preparing a cruise terminal that has not been used for a year to help passengers go through customs after their ordeal.

The Triumph is expected to arrive Thursday afternoon.

Carnival has chartered 15 buses to take passengers to hotels in New Orleans and downtown Mobile, said Barbara Drummond, a spokeswoman for the city of Mobile.

Carnival said passengers would also be able to fly home on chartered flights.

The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.

Passengers are supposed to receive a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.

"We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances," Carnival President and CEO Gary Cahill said. "We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure."

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen acknowledged the Triumph's recent mechanical problems, explaining that there was an electrical problem with the ship's alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2.

Testing of the repaired part was successful and "there is no evidence at this time of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on Feb. 10."

But according to the email sent to passengers on Jan. 28, the issue affected the ship's cruising speeds, delaying its arrival in Galveston. The email also informed Smedley and other passengers that the propulsion problem would prevent them from docking at two ports.

"Due to the limited cruising speed, our itinerary will be impacted. Depending on the progress of the repairs, we will either visit Progreso or Cozumel," stated the email, signed by Vicky Rey, vice president of guest services. "The good news is that we will remain docked overnight at either port."

Smedley said the ship was in poor condition overall. During her five-day cruise, a water line broke in the hallway ceiling near her cabin, and a sewer line broke outside the main dining hall, she said. Metal was protruding from handrails on the staircases, and the elevators often did not work.

Rather than docking in Progreso for only a few hours as planned, the ship stayed in the port for two days, and cruise workers repeatedly told passengers they were waiting for parts to fix a mechanical problem, she said.

 

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