Around 9:30 p.m. central time on Thursday, Feb. 14, the Carnival Triumph docked at a port in Mobile, Alabama. Guests lined the deck waving their arms, holding up banners, and singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” The ship had been stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five days starting Sunday, Feb. 10 when an engine fire completely crippled the cruise liner, causing it to lose power.
The ship was pulled at a gruelingly slow pace by tugboats for 30 miles to the nearest shore. Very few details about the incident surfaced until late Wednesday, when the ship came into range of patchy cell phone service. Some of the roughly 3,000 passengers reported that the conditions on board the ship were “disgusting”.
Without power, toilets were not flushing. 28 year-old Ashley Riggs was using the cruise as her bachelorette party, and recalled the crew’s message to passengers.“They said if you have to pee, use the shower. If you have go to No. 2 – that’s how they put it in the announcement, then use the big red plastic bags. You’d use the bags and then put them in the hallway for the crew to collect.” Some passengers used the toilets anyway, and as they overflowed the ship began to smell like raw sewage, especially in the lower levels.
In order to escape the smell and the tropical heat in the cabins, passengers took to the deck of the ship in order to get comfortable sleep. Mattresses lined the more open areas of the ship and the edges of the deck. What has been described as a makeshift “shanty town” comprising of bed sheets was constructed outside as well, providing relief from the smell and the sun.
Food was also in increasingly short supply. Passengers waited in long lines for a subsistence that consisted mostly of “soggy bread and cheese” according to Riggs. Cold onion sandwiches were also offered. Shannon Giordano texted her husband back home to inform him that she had waited three hours in line for a hot dog. In cases such as these, it is thus advised to have experienced cruise ship lawyers in hand, the ones who would know how to ask for your share of compensation from the cruise company.
Carnival reportedly communicated very little to the passengers when it came to what would happen to them after the ship finally docked. Most of the passengers’ frustration was geared not towards the crew, but towards the administrators calling the shots. CEO of Carnival, Gerry Cahill, told the press that “Every decision [Carnival has] made since Sunday is to ensure the safety of our guests and get them home as quickly as possible.” Carnival arranged to have 1,500+ hotel rooms available free of charge in New Orleans, but required a 2-hour bus ride from Mobile. Mobile mayor Samuel Jones questioned Carnival’s decision not to simply reserve rooms in Mobile for the weary passengers, especially after one of the rescue busses broke down on the way to New Orleans.
Warm food, blankets, and charged cell phones were available to passengers upon docking in Mobile. Families reunited, including 12 year-old Rebecca Poret and her worried mother. While at sea, reporters connected the two so that Rebecca could relate the message “I’m cold, but I’m good.” Carnival, hoping to avoid economic fallout, gave the stranded guests what they consider to be a “fair deal.” Passengers are to receive a full refund plus $500, in addition to a gift that many passengers find rather ironic: a free Carnival cruise.