The 893 foot Carnival cruise ship Triumph reported a fire in the aft engine room Sunday morning. The ship’s fire control system and cruise ship personnel isolated and extinguished the engine room fire, but the vessel lost main propulsion and was left dead in the water in the Gulf of Mexico with more than 4,000 people onboard. The Coast Guard has been maintaining communication with the vessel, which lost power approximately 136 miles north of Merida, Mexico.
The ship has been operating on emergency power and receiving supplies from other cruise ships on scene. Tugs were dispatched to assist the vessel and the Coast Guard arrived Sunday night to escort the cruise ship to Mobile, Alabama, approximately 270 miles north. On Wednesday, the Coast Guard transported approximately 3,000 pounds of equipment, which included a generator and electrical cables. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the Triumph is now expected arrive in Mobile between 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday.
Passengers aboard the vessel have described conditions as dismal. Speaking by phone to NBC’s “Today” show Thursday, passenger Janie Baker said conditions on the ship were “extremely terrible.” There has been no electricity and few working toilets, she said. Baker also described having to use plastic bags to go to the bathroom and wait in line for hours to get food and once saw a woman pass out while in line. Another passenger reported she waited in line for three hours to get a hot dog. “It’s just a nightmare,” Baker said. Baker said she and her friends slept with their life vests one night because the ship was listing and they feared it would tip over. Vivian Tilley, whose sister, Renee Shanar, is on the ship, said Shanar 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. Communication with passengers on the Triumph has been limited to brief windows when other cruise ships with working cellular towers have rendezvoused to deliver supplies, but some relatives have reported being told of uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions.
Passengers are supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation. On Wednesday the company announced its plan for passengers as the Triumph was being towed to a port in Mobile, Alabama. Passengers will be given the option of boarding buses directly to Galvaston, Texas, or Houston — a roughly seven-hour drive — or taking a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 hotel rooms. Those staying in New Orleans will be flown Friday to Houston.
Meanwhile, officials in Mobile were preparing a cruise terminal that has not been used for a year to help passengers go through customs after their ordeal. Earlier Wednesday, Carnival canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. In addition to the dozen voyages canceled Wednesday, two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday’s fire. Once docked, the ship will be idle through April. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the cause. Carnival acknowledged the Triumph’s recent mechanical woes, explaining that there was an electrical problem with the ship’s alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2.