Exhausted passengers who spent four days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with no power and few working restrooms streamed off a stricken Carnival cruise ship yesterday.
What was supposed to have been a pleasurable excursion turned into a hellish ordeal after an engine room fire on Sunday left the ship without the power needed to operate air conditioners, prepare meals or flush toilets.
The crippled ship limped into the port in Mobile, Alabama, after being towed there by a flotilla of tugboats — ending a hot and miserable ordeal for about 4,000 people on board.
Families cheered from dockside and waved to relatives who stood on the deck and lined the balconies of the darkened ocean liner, which has been likened to a hulking skyscraper adrift for days on the open water.
“It is great to be on ground,” Rob Kenny told CNN moments after disembarking, saying he looked forward to being reunited with his wife and children in Dallas. Another passenger knelt and kissed the dock.
Brooklyn Burgess said she broke down when she was reunited with her father.
“It was just so good to see him, after being on that boat for that long and not knowing when or how we were getting back,” she said.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill told reporters shortly after the cruise ship Triumph’s arrival that the first order of business would be to apologize to the passengers for their ordeal.
“I would like to reiterate the apology that I made earlier, because I know that the conditions on board were very poor and it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting the guests to that,” he said.
“We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case,” Cahill said.
A flotilla of tugboats pulled the massive ocean liner into port, in an operation that took longer than anticipated because of a delay when the towline for one of the boats snapped and had to be replaced.
Some of the passengers on the ship operated by Florida-based Carnival Cruise Lines signaled news media helicopters with “SOS” messages scrawled on sheets, desperate to flee the stench and mess that they had endured for four days.
Several travelers waved homemade flags fashioned from bed sheets to express their distress. One sign read: “S.O.S.” Another: “We R Not OK.”
At one point, a group lay on the sundeck and spelled out the word “help” with their own bodies.
Other passengers reached by telephone described a stomach-churning ordeal and sent photographs of the nightmare voyage, showing mattresses dragged out of stifling rooms and lined up on deck.
Jamie Baker, a passenger from Texas, told US media that pipes had burst, the toilet system was backed up and cabins were flooded with dirty water.
Baker complained that passengers had to wait in line for up to four hours for meals she described as “basically bread” or, in her case, skimpy sandwiches of tomato and mayonnaise.
“Sanitation is a huge problem. Food is very sporadic,” she said.
The Triumph had originally been scheduled to return to port early on Monday after a weekend stop in Cozumel in Mexico before the engine room blaze that left the vessel without power.
Carnival has offered financial compensation and discounted future travel for the passengers.
He said Carnival has snapped up hotel rooms throughout the city of Mobile to accommodate weary travelers and the relatives who have traveled to meet them.