With passengers describing increasingly deplorable conditions aboard a Carnival cruise ship that was left floating helplessly in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a fire knocked out its propulsion system, the Coast Guard said Tuesday that it would take two more days to tow the ship to the port in Mobile, Ala.
The fire not only left the vessel, the Triumph, unable to sail, but also caused a shipwide power failure, disrupting the onboard sewage system, disabling heating and air-conditioning systems, and leaving little light to guide the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members after nightfall.
"It is just squalor and disgusting," said Steven Peery, whose wife, Cindel Pena, was on the ship.
Pena, in conversations with her husband and her mother, Serena Pena, painted a picture of a vacation turned nightmare. Lines for meals last more than an hour, she said, and hallways and cabins are so hot and foul that people have taken to sleeping in whatever outdoor space they can find.
Also, with many of the toilets not functioning, the crew was forced to distribute plastic bags for people to use instead.
"The first time I talked to her," Serena Pena said, "she asked if I had seen reports on the news and if those reports described the raw sewage on the floors, because they should." Sewage also seemed to be seeping through the walls, Cindel Pena said.
A fire in 2010 aboard the Splendor, another Carnival cruise ship, left 3,300 passengers without electricity for 72 hours. When the ship was finally towed into port in San Diego, disembarking travelers looked more like refugees than holiday revelers.
Gerald R. Cahill, president and chief executive of Carnival Cruise Lines, said that everything possible was being done to improve conditions aboard the Triumph.
"All of our guests are safe, and we're doing everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible," he said in a statement. "The ship has maintained emergency generator power since the fire occurred, and the technical team on board has been successful in gradually restoring auxiliary power to operate some basic hotel functions.
Currently, public and cabin toilets are operational in certain sections of the ship, power has been restored to a limited number of elevators, and some power in the Lido dining area is providing for hot coffee and limited hot food service."
Two other Carnival cruise ships were delivering essential supplies of food and water to the vessel, according to the Coast Guard.
The ship departed from Galveston, Texas, on Thursday for what was to be a four-day cruise. The fire that disabled the propulsion system broke out in the engine room Sunday morning.
"The ship's automatic fire extinguishing systems activated, and the fire was successfully extinguished," Cahill said in a statement.
Petty Officer Richard Brahm, who works out of the Coast Guard's Houston office, said the ship originally was stranded 380 miles from port and, after a day being towed by two Coast Guard tugboats, was still 230 miles from Mobile on Tuesday morning.
"It was literally in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico," Brahm said.