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'Fun Ship' that wasn't: passengers kiss ground as they escape cruiser

Angry holidaymakers describe 'sauna of sewage' as they finally get off crippled US liner

The “Fun Ships” might better be known as the “Misery Ships” after livid passengers finally disembarked from the crippled Carnival Triumph in Mobile, Alabama, late on Thursday night, complaining of long days and nights of ghastly conditions on board, including stifling heat, food shortages and sewage-soaked carpets.

Passengers, some clad in bathrobes to keep warm, cheered and kissed the ground as they emerged from a high deck of the Triumph before being crammed into buses to take them to New Orleans or back to Galveston, where their ill-fated cruise had started last Saturday, for the final leg of their journeys home.

The ship, carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew, lost power to its propellers and much of its air-conditioning and plumbing systems last Sunday after an engine-room fire. After drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for nearly two days it was finally tethered to tug boats, which towed it to Mobile.

“This is my first and last cruise,” Kendall Jenkins said as she and a friend made it off and kissed the dockside in papal style. With only one lift working even disembarkation was an ordeal lasting hours. “Let us off! Let us off!” impatient guests chanted from a sun deck after the ship was nudged in. “The ship’s afloat. So is the sewage”, a placard waved by another passenger trumpeted.

Passengers texted about an onboard hell, particularly for those on the lower decks, who endured sewage coming up through shower drains and toilets and seeping into carpets and corridors. The smell of smoke on the lower decks and later of human waste was so bad many resorted to taking bed-linen to the promenade decks and sleeping out on deck chairs.

“It was horrible, just horrible” said Maria Hernandez, 28, who was among those on the lower decks. Cindey Gill said it “was like a sauna of sewage” on parts of the ship. Her husband, the Reverend Wendell Gill, said they rarely saw officers and didn’t see the captain once. In the end, they claimed, it was the passengers who set about helping each other, particularly attending to the elderly and the poorly.

It was a dreadful end to what had been advertised as a four-day spin to the Mexican island of Cozumel and back. It also burdens the parent company, the Carnival Corp, which is based in both Britain and the United States and whose brands also include Cunard, with a fresh public relations nightmare. The company also owns Costa Cruises and is still enmeshed in the aftermath of the crash of the Costa Concordia off Italy.

This time no one was killed or seriously injured, but some passengers ran out of medication. However, the company may find itself the target of lawsuits. It has already acknowledged that the Triumph, built 14 years ago, has had serial mechanical problems lately. The circumstances of the fire will be investigated by both American and Bahamian marine safety authorities.

Passengers on the Triumph – including four from Britain – were offered a voucher for a future free cruise holiday and $500 each in cash. But when the Carnival CEO boarded the boat as it docked to apologise, he received a rocky reception with chants of “bull****” breaking out around the vessel.

“We know this has been a difficult journey,” he said, “I apologise… Clearly, we failed in this particular case.”

Aerial shots taken from planes chartered by American media outlets showed a kind of shanty town on the decks after passengers fled their stinking cabins for the open air.

“The smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes,” said Kalin Hill, who added that unusable bathrooms had forced some passengers to do their personal business in plastic bags.

Officials from Carnival insisted that crew members had done all  they could to make the passengers more comfortable, cleaning soiled bathrooms and cabins around the clock. Generators were flown to the ship, they added, to help restore power where possible, for instance allowing passengers to recharge flat mobile phones.