Broken Towline Slows Stranded Cruise Ship's Return to Land

Passengers' nightmare vacation will end even later than previously thought.

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The Carnival Triumph, an immobile cruise ship that has stranded its 4,000 occupants at sea since Sunday, will not arrive ashore until much later than originally thought because of a broken towline, according to the Mobile Press-Register.

A fire on the 900-foot, 14-story boat that knocked out the ship's propulsion system Sunday has turned what was supposed to be four-day dream cruise to the Caribbean into an eight-day health and public relations nightmare. The fire not only knocked out the ship's propulsion, but its power, air conditioning, and septic systems as well.

The extra time at sea has also left the boat short on food and passengers without critical medicine.

The ship left Galveston, Texas, Thursday carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew who planned to return to home port Monday night. The engine fire stalled those plans, leaving the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Two tug boats reached the listless ship Monday night and began pulling it ashore. With the help of two more, the Carnival Triumph should reach the port of Mobile, Ala., Thursday night, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told the Press-Register. But one of the tugboat's towlines has broken, meaning the Triumph will be "dead in the water" until that tugboat is replaced, Petty Officer William Colclough told the Associated Press. The ship had been moving at about 5 mph before the line broke, and was expected to arrive in Mobile between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Central Time. That arrival time has been pushed back, though Colclough did not know how long replacing the tugboat would take.Upon arrival, passengers will be greeted by a cadre of EMT's and several travel options offered by Carnival Corp., which operates the Triumph. Passengers will have an option of taking a bus to hotels in New Orleans or a chartered flight to Houston tomorrow, all of which will be paid for by Carnival.

The cruise company has also increased its compensation for the unlucky passengers. In addition to a full refund for the cruise, vouchers for another cruise, and the transportation, each passenger will receive $500, according to ABC News.

"We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances," Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, said in a statement. "We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure. Therefore, in addition to the full refund and future cruise credit already offered, we have decided to provide this additional compensation."

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The would-be vacationers have been relaying the horrible conditions on the ship since Sunday. Passenger Jamie Baker told told NBC's Today Show that ship reminded her of "Katrina in the Dome," a reference to the botched evacuation into the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.

As in the Superdome, people are crammed in squalid conditions and steamy heat with little food. To make matters worse, there is the issue of sanitation: there are no showers and a burst sewage pipe has exacerbated the raw sewage problem. Baker said passengers are instructed to use bags in lieu of bathrooms.

"Then we have to take it into the hall put it into these bigger bags," Baker told NBC.

Other passengers spoke of four-hour lines for food, and squabbles over what little food there is.

"A lot of people were complaining that people were hoarding their food," Rachel Alderete, a passenger who was airlifted from the ship for medical reasons, told the New York Times. "But it's not because they were being greedy. It was because, like us, there were 30 of us and we all couldn't walk up the stairs and wait to get the food. We sent people to try to bring things back to us."

Carnival has cancelled 14 planned voyages for the Triumph and admitted the ship had other mechanical problems prior to this voyage. The company, which did not respond to request for comment, issued a press release estimating the financial impact of the "voyage disruptions and related repair costs," but did not mention the Triumph or its passengers directly.