As exhausted passengers poured off the Carnival Triumph cruise ship, when it finally docked in Mobile, Alabama, Thursday night, some stopped to kiss the ground.
The ship, which left Galveston, Texas, last Friday for what was to have been a four-day Mexican cruise, was disabled on Sunday by an engine room fire and had to be towed back to port. During the five-day return ordeal, the 4,200 passengers and crew members dealt with heat, darkness, lack of food, and appalling sanitation conditions, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Hot food, blankets, and cell phones were waiting on the dock, along with a line of 100 buses to carry passengers on the seven-hour trip back to Galveston. Some passengers opted for a shorter trip to New Orleans or to hotels in Mobile, the Tribune said. Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill boarded the ship to personally apologize to passengers. “I know the conditions on board were very poor,” he told reporters, “I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that.”
Passengers described the squalid conditions that quickly developed on the ship, in particular a stomach-turning stench everywhere. Toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking cabins and hallways with raw sewage. Those on board used red plastic “biohazard” bags as makeshift toilets, while crew members struggled to clean and keep up with waste removal. Many passengers slept on open decks. Without electricity for cooking, only sandwiches and snack foods were available, and those were soon in short supply.
Gerry Cahill said passengers would be reimbursed in full plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate them. Legal analysts say that passengers will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages. According to the Tribune, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.