More than 4,220 people aboard the stricken cruise ship Carnival Triumph on Wednesday faced one more night of what some have described as hellish conditions before their expected arrival in Alabama, even as the company said the situation was improving.
The 893-foot vessel has been without propulsion and running on emergency generator power since Sunday, when an engine room fire left it adrift off Mexico's southern Yucatan Peninsula. It is being hauled by tugboats to Mobile, Ala., where it is due to arrive no later than Thursday.
Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for the ship's operator Carnival Corp, said on Wednesday that conditions aboard the Triumph had improved, even as passengers described dire circumstances on board.
Some passengers who contacted relatives and media earlier this week before their cellphone batteries died reported a horrific situation aboard the ship, saying it was awash in raw sewage from overflowing toilets and running short on food and water.
Carnival Cruise Lines, meanwhile, has cancelled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged on Wednesday that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before it was left powerless in the Gulf of Mexico by an engine-room fire.
Kim McKerreghan told CNN news network that her husband and young daughter, who are on board the ship, said in a call on Monday that passengers were being forced to defecate in plastic bags due to a shortage of working toilets and that meals consisted of sandwiches with only condiments or onions.
Nick Ware, whose mother is among the Triumph passengers, told the network, "Once the meat for the burgers ran out, they were basically just eating condiment hamburgers. Just, you know, whatever condiments they could get on a bun."
He said some passengers had been instructed to use "red biohazard bags" as makeshift toilets on Monday.
The ship left Galveston, Tex., last Thursday carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew and had been due to return there on Monday.
Mr. Gulliksen said a technical team on board had succeeded in gradually restoring auxiliary power to operate some basic hotel functions.
"Public and cabin toilets are operational in certain sections of the ship and some power in the Lido dining area is providing for hot coffee and limited hot food service," he said.
He did not elaborate on the number of working toilets but said the ship had cold running water and that three Carnival ships had rendezvoused with the Triumph to provide additional supplies and meals.
Jimmy Mowlam, 63, whose 37-year-old son, Rob Mowlam, got married Saturday onboard the ship, said his son told him by phone Monday night that there is no running water and few working toilets. He said passengers were given plastic bags to "use for their business."
Mr. Mowlam said his son told him the lack of ventilation on the Triumph's current voyage had made it too hot to sleep inside and that many passengers had set up camp on the ocean liner's decks and in its common areas.
"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," said Mr. Mowlam, adding that his son had indicated that passengers are trying to make the best of a bad situation. He said his son had also told him the ship's crew had started giving free alcohol to passengers.
"He was concerned about what that was going to lead to when people start drinking too much," Mr. Mowlam said.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday that it had launched an investigation into the cause of the Triumph fire. But it said the Bahamas Maritime Authority was the primary investigative agency, since the ship was a Bahamian flagged vessel.
Mr. Gulliksen told Agence France Presse that the ship "previously experienced an electrical issue with one of [its] alternators" and that repairs on the alternator supplier were completed on Feb. 2. "There is no evidence at this time," he added, "of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on February 10."
Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, has apologized and said passengers would receive a full credit for the cruise plus transportation expenses and a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage.
Difficulties on board the Carnival Triumph occurred a little more than a year after 32 people were killed when the Costa Concordia, a luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand, was grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio in Italy.