PASSENGERS endured a five-day “voyage to hell” in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine fire knocked out power, leaving their luxury cruise liner adrift with few working toilets, no electricity and short of food and water.
The Carnival Triumph, carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew, finally limped into port in Mobile, Alabama, with passengers speaking of their relief at reaching dry land, and the ship’s owners apologising. They now face the prospect of costly legal action.
Many who disembarked yesterday told of raw sewage sloshing across hallways and soaking into bedding, and of families being forced to camp out on deck to avoid the stench in the lower decks.
Others spoke of a sense of camaraderie that grew between holidaymakers and crew, allowing them to endure an ordeal that ended only when tugboats hauled the liner into harbour almost three days behind schedule and 500 miles from its home port of Galveston, Texas.
“It was horrible, horrible,” said Janie Esperanza, one of the first to leave the ship after it arrived during the night in Mobile.
“The bathroom facilities were horrible and we could not flush toilets. [There was] no electricity and our rooms were in darkness. Honestly, I think that this ship should have never sailed out.”
Many among the first to disembark wore white bathrobes and some kissed the ground. The song Sweet Home Alabama played over loudspeakers and there was cheering from waiting relatives, although few passengers wanted to celebrate.
Larry Poret, who was with daughter Rebekah, 12, and a friend, said: “I don’t know how much more we could have took [sic]. It was really, really difficult.”
He said sewage sloshed in the corridors. “It runs down the walls from one floor to the next. It’s running out of somebody’s bathroom out into the hallway all the way across,” he said.
Jacob Combs, from Austin, Texas, said crew fought a losing battle. He said: “Just imagine the filth. People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning.”
Other passengers said conditions improved once supplies were dropped off from two other cruise ships midweek and the US coastguard had managed to get a generator aboard, restoring some power and toilet facilities. But they said food shortages, and keeping children entertained, were among the biggest challenges.
“People were hoarding food, boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands,” Debbie Moyes, of Phoenix, Arizona, said. “It wasn’t a vacation anymore, it was survival mode. Eat what you can. Snack when you can. It was awful,” another passenger, Tammy Garcia, said.
Gerry Cahill, chief executive of Carnival Cruise Lines, apologised at dockside before going on board to greet passengers on the Bahamian flagged liner.
“I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was difficult. I want to apologise for subjecting our guests to that,” he said.
“We pride ourselves with providing a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case.”
He said every passenger would receive a full refund, plus travelling expenses and a £320 credit as compensation. He said that his company had also laid on hotels and fleets of buses to get people home again, though CBS last night reported one of the buses broke down with passengers on board.