The stricken Carnival cruise ship Triumph has arrived back in port, ending a nightmarish ocean voyage for some 4200 desperate passengers and crew after it lost power over the weekend.
Pictured: The Carnival Triumph is pushed towards the cruise terminal along the Mobile River. Photo: AP
At a little after 2pm on Friday (ADST), the crippled ship inched into the port in Mobile, Alabama, after being towed by a flotilla of tugboats.
Some of the passengers on the Triumph, which is operated by Florida-based Carnival Cruise Lines, signalled news media helicopters with "SOS" messages scrawled on sheets, desperate to flee the stench and mess that they had endured for four days. One group spelled out the word "HELP" with their bodies on the deck of the ship.
For relatives of the 4200 hungry and dirty passengers and crew members on the stranded Carnival Cruise Line ship Triumph, the focus on Thursday was on a small, dedicated crew of mariners whose task it was to bring the big ship into Mobile's cruise ship terminal, which the cruise line had abandoned two years ago for financial reasons.
Carnival Cruise Line officials made two crucial decisions this week after a fire set the ship adrift and powerless during a four-day cruise through the Caribbean. First, they would try to tow the ship, which is the length of three football fields, to shore instead of risking moving passengers to another cruise ship, some of which could get close enough to drop supplies.
"We evaluated a wide range of options but the safest and most expedient solution was towing the ship back to port," said Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines.
The entire entourage moved slowly into a cruise ship terminal that until 2011 was the home to the Carnival Cruise ship Elation. The company closed operations, citing fuel costs and problems getting enough business out of Mobile. Mobile officials remain bitter about the abrupt end of that relationship, and some criticised the cruise company for also not using any hotels in Mobile to take care of passengers.
Instead, Carnival has about 100 buses reserved and has secured 1500 hotel rooms in New Orleans. People will be processed at the Mobile terminal, getting medical treatment, gathering luggage and beginning their journey home.
"We probably won't see any passengers off the boat until 7 o'clock, maybe 8," said Jimmy Lyons, director of the Alabama State Port Authority.
Pillows and blankets were flown in from Atlanta. A bank of power cords and wireless internet connections were set up.
On Thursday morning, Nicole Enjoufor, a 35-year-old passenger, somehow managed to get her mobile lphone to work long enough to call her mother, Nellie Betts, who had driven to Mobile from Tupelo, Mississippi, to get her daughter. They hope to be reunited by early evening.
"'First time on a cruise, last time on a cruise,' that's what she's saying," Betts said.
Passengers on the dark, largely powerless ship have mostly pulled together, her daughter reports, despite cold food, murky brown drinking water and the constant stench of human waste.
There is some laughter, her daughter told her, "but mostly praying and crying."
Now back on dry land, passengers can choose to board a bus and head to Galveston or Houston, or spend the night in a New Orleans hotel and catch a private charter plane the next day, according to a statement put out by Carnival. The company said it would cover all travel-related expenses.
Passengers will also get a refund, $US500 and credit for another cruise.
SOURCE: Robbie Brown and John DeSantis