With the Carnival cruise ship Triumph and its 3,143 passengers now being towed to Mobile, Ala., more reports are emerging from passengers aboard the ship that lost engine power Sunday. They describe a tent city on the upper deck and continuing problems with the sewage system.
In an update announced Wednesday afternoon, Carnival says it is now cancelling the Triumph's next 12 trips, in addition to the two that were already cancelled. It promised refunds to those who have booked voyages on the ship through April 13.
Tuesday night, Carnival's president apologized for the poor conditions that followed the outage and laid out the cruise line's plans for getting more than 3,100 passengers home after they reach Alabama late Wednesday or early Thursday — nearly 500 miles from their intended destination of Galveston, Texas.
"No one here from Carnival is happy about the conditions on board the ship," Carnival Cruise Line president Gerry Cahill said, "and we obviously are very, very sorry about what is taking place. There is no question that conditions onboard the ship are very challenging."
"Every action we are taking is to get our guests home as quickly as possible," Cahill said, "and to make them as comfortable as they can be, onboard."
At least in terms of public perception, that statement clashed with a story from The Daily Mail, which reports that Carnival CEO Micky Arison attended an NBA game Tuesday night, to watch the Miami Heat — a team that he owns — play the Portland Trailblazers.
"As his customers suffer through putrid smells and unbearable temperatures, CEO Micky Arison headed to the American Airlines Arena Tuesday to enjoy a different kind of Heat - the Miami basketball team," reports the Mail.
"Most" of the 23 public bathrooms on the ship are working, along with "a good section of guest cabins," Cahill said Tuesday night.
Whatever the number of working toilets, it evidently falls short of the needs of more than 4,000 people on the ship, which has a crew of more than 1,000.
"The worst part is the bathrooms," passenger Donna Gutzman tells NBC News. "There's no water. You can't really flush so everyone's going in little plastic baggies and putting it outside their rooms."
Jimmy Mowlam, 63, whose son Rob is on his honeymoon on the Triumph, says Rob told him Monday night that the passengers were taking the setbacks "in stride," despite a lack of ventilation that left many interior cabins unbearably hot.
"He said up on deck it looks like a shanty town, with sheets, almost like tents, mattresses, anything else they can pull to sleep on," Mowlam tells the AP.
Mowlam also echoed several reports that after an enforced restriction on alcoholic drinks, the crew has now begun providing them for free.
Updates about the Triumph have drawn thousands of comments on Carnival's Facebook page, with both former and future passengers airing their concerns. While some commenters who traveled on the ship in the previous two months said they experienced engine problems and delays, other wrote in to say they had enjoyed their cruise.
As for the current trip, the only obvious bright side is that none of the passengers or crew were injured as a result of the fire, which the ship's automatic systems extinguished. And because the ship was 150 miles north of the Yucatan Peninsula when the fire struck, the prevailing currents pushed it away from shore and into the open gulf.
Since it began operating under emergency generators, Cahill said, the Triumph has been assisted by three other Carnival cruise ships — the Elation, the Legend, and the Conquest — that were diverted to provide food and supplies.
Filling in details about what awaits the passengers when they finally arrive one week after they embarked on a four-day cruise, Cahill said the cruise line has booked more than 1,500 to offer hotel rooms for Thursday night in either Mobile or New Orleans for its guests who will arrive in Alabama, "to give them an opportunity to rest and relax, and then to fly them home."
As the news site AL.com reports, Mobile has its own cruise ship terminal — the port once served Carnival cruise ships, a practice that ended in recent years.
Carnival says it has arranged more than 20 chartered flights for Friday, when it will convey passengers from Mobile to Houston, a major air hub that is about 50 miles from the Triumph's home port of Galveston. Cahill said that any passengers who would rather start their journey home after arriving Thursday can travel by bus to either Houston or Galveston.
When the Triumph makes landfall at Mobile's port, it will be met not only by friends and family members, but also by a team of investigators from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board, who will look into the engine room fire and the response from the ship and its crew.