A nightmare cruise, in which passengers were reportedly left fighting over food on a vessel caked in urine and raw sewage, has finally come to an end.
Cheering passengers lined the deck and the ship blasted its horn several times in celebration as the 14-storey cruise ship Carnival Triumph made its final docking approach after five days stranded in the Gulf of Mexico.
Conditions on board rapidly deteriorated during that time, with passengers using mobile phones to convey tales of carpets soaked in urine and passengers sleeping in tents on deck.
Food supplies are said to have run low, with passengers forced to queue for hours for cold onion and cucumber sandwiches, and there were also reports of fights breaking out as groups of “savages” fought over the dwindling supplies.
Speaking to CNN, passenger Ann Barlow said: “It’s disgusting. It’s the worst thing ever”, while her husband Toby told the news channel there was “sewage running down the walls and floors”, with passengers asked to defecate in plastic bags and urinate in showers due to their being only five working toilets between 4,200 people.
It is believed there was also no electricity or air conditioning on board.
But the mood on board was far more celebratory today, as passengers danced on the decks and displayed homemade Valentine’s cards as the ship docked at the Alabama cruise terminal in Mobile.
About an hour after the ship pulled up at 9.15pm local time, a steady stream of passengers began making their way down the glass-enclosed gang plank, some in wheelchairs and others pulling carry-on luggage. One man gave the thumbs up.
For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson of Texas, not knowing how long passengers had to endure their time aboard was the worst part.
“I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings,” said Ferguson, who was in a white robe given to her aboard. “The scariest part was just not knowing when we'd get back”.
It took six gruelling hours navigating the roughly 30-mil) ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.
And even once it is stable, it will take four to five hours for all the 3,000 passengers to be off, said Carnival senior vice president of marketing Terry Thornton.
Buses started leaving the raucous terminal earlier today, with up to 100 reserved to carry passengers on either a seven-hour ride to the Texan cities of Galveston or Houston, or a two-hour trip to New Orleans.
“I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus,” said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. “If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus.”
Yesterday the 4,200 passengers and crew members suffered another setback with towline issues that brought the vessel to a dead stop for about an hour just when it was getting close to port.
As the vessel drew into range of mobile phone signal Thursday, passengers vented their anger.
Renee Shanar, of Houston, was on board with her husband, who she said has heart trouble. They were told they will be among the first to disembark, she said.
“I don't believe them; they've been lying to us from the beginning,” Shanar said.
Disgusted by the foul air and heat on the lower decks, many passengers hauled mattresses and bed sheets onto the top deck and slept there, even staying put in a soaking rain. As the ship approached the coast, a slew of Carnival workers removed the bedding and took it downstairs.
“Today they cleaned the ship, they're serving better food, covering up basically, but at least they're making it more bearable,” said Kalin Hill, of Houston, who boarded the Triumph as part of a bachelorette party.
In a text message, though, she described deplorable conditions over the past few days.
“The lower floors had it the worst, the floors 'squish' when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors,” Hill wrote. “Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes.”
She said “there's poop and urine all along the floor. The floor is flooded with sewer water ... and we had to poop in bags.”
The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable.
Some travel agents said cruise prices and bookings have not been affected by the disabled Carnival ship, but others in the industry say it's too early to tell.
Thelbert Lanier was waiting at the Mobile port for his wife, who texted him yesterday.
“Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven't work in 3 1/2 days. Happy Valentines Day!!! I love u & wish I was there,” she said in the text message, which was viewed by The Associated Press. “It's 4:00 am. Can't sleep...it's cold & I'm starting to get sick.”
No one was injured in the fire aboard, but a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution. In addition, the Coast Guard said in a statement Thursday that it evacuated a passenger who reportedly suffered a stroke.
Carnival said the original plan was to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, because it was the closest port, but by the time tugboats arrived, the ship had drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents, putting it nearly equidistant to Mobile. It was also logistically easier for the company, which said costs were not a factor.
Carnival Cruise Lines has cancelled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation.
Gulliksen said the Triumph's recent mechanical woes involved an electrical problem with the ship's alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2, and the problem was not related to the fire, he said.
Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and on Wednesday Carnival announced they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.