GALVESTON — The end is in sight for passengers and crew aboard the disabled Carnival Triumph as tug boats pull the drifting vessel north to a port at Mobile, Ala., instead of Mexico as originally planned.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ President Gerry Cahill called a news conference Tuesday night from the company’s corporate headquarters in Miami to apologize to passengers and commend their families at home for their patience.
Cahill said Carnival has arranged for the more than 3,000 passengers to spend the night in 1,500 hotel rooms in Mobile and New Orleans once the Triumph docks Thursday. They’ll go on to board 20 charter flights to Houston and then be bused back to their vehicles parked at the Port of Galveston.
More than 4,000 people, including crew members, have been coping with the ugly reality of limited electricity and inadequate utilities since an engine fire left the ship dead in the water Sunday. Food services are limited, most toilets and showers are out of service, and there is no air conditioning aboard the 102,000-ton ship.
Cahill said that everyone aboard is safe and that staff is trying to make passengers as comfortable as possible, but optimistic statements fly in the face of reports from passenger Donnell King of Brazoria County.
King said they’ve had no choice but to use showers to urinate and use trash cans to defecate and that some passengers have even reported seeing sewage running down cabin walls.
“It’s been pretty bad,” King said. “We’ve had limited food.”
The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the cause of the engine room fire and contributing factors that led to the incident.
Problems with the Triumph’s propulsion system delayed two of its previous departures, but it hasn’t been determined if Sunday’s fire is connected to the ship’s problem with propulsion.
Problems began before the ship left the port
Chris Richardson, a Texas City resident who was on the Triumph’s previous voyage, said the ship was having problems before he boarded Feb. 3.
Richardson said he received a text message from Carnival advising passengers the ship’s arrival would be delayed due to a technical problem with its propulsion system.
Everything was fine, he said, until the ship came to a complete stop during its return trip.
“We got stuck outside of Galveston Bay for two hours just floating there,” he said. “The boat started shaking out of control and then started rolling.”
A lack of communication
Family members of those on board the Triumph said they are frustrated by the lack of communication from Carnival representatives.
Texas City resident Sybil Brown said her three children are on the ship with their father, Texas City Police Officer Kenneth Brown, who was able to make a cellphone call to a family member Monday using the wireless signal from another ship while it delivered provisions to the Triumph.
“I’m worried,” she said. “Messages from passengers have been fewer and far between probably because everyone’s phones have died.”
Carnival hasn’t contacted anyone in her family.
“All the reports from the news sound like my children are living in Third World conditions,” she said. “I’m not expecting hourly updates, but to let us go more than 24 hours without giving us any kind of update is not right.”
The Triumph was the first cruise her two daughters and son have been on, and it certainly has made a bad impression on them, Brown said.
“If they’re going to get sick from those conditions, they’ll lose more school than they already have,” she said. “I was planning to take the children on a big vacation and was thinking about the Disney cruise, but I don’t want to put my children through the anxiety of going on a boat again.”
Jason McClintock, a resident of McKinney, said his wife, Valerie, and her mother are on board the Triumph with their Jazzercise group.
McClintock got a text from Valerie shortly after the ship was disabled Sunday informing him they were fine but hasn’t heard from her since.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” he said. “Even when she texted me Sunday, I thought they’d get it up and running in a few hours. My fear is that she’s miserable and suffering and that she might get sick.”
Like Brown, McClintock said Carnival has yet to contact him. He has questions about the disembarkation process once the ship reaches Mobile, Ala., more than 400 miles away from where Valerie’s car is parked outside the port of Galveston.
“I will never go on a Carnival cruise again, no matter what kind of compensation they give me,” McClintock said.
The Carnival Corporation is the parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises and the Seabourn Cruise Line.
KHOU-TV contributed to this report through a content partnership with The Daily News.