More than 4,200 passengers on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph disembarked late Thursday in Mobile, Ala. after an engine room fire that knocked out power and trapped vacationers on board. They were exposed to unsanitary conditions and a shortage of food as the ship was slowly towed back to land.
The ship left Galvaston, Texas last Thursday for what passengers thought was going to be a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. Instead, the fire disabled the ship's propulsion system and power. The heating, cooling, and sewage systems also failed. Passengers described horrible smells, overflowing sewage, and food shortages that forced them to eat candy and ketchup on buns.
"It's like being locked in a Porta Potty for days," passenger Peter Cass of Beaumont, Texas told the New York Times. "We've lived through two hurricanes, and this is worse."
Carnival didn't know what caused the fire that crippled the 14-year old ship, which also experienced mechanical issues last month. The company said employees did their best to keep passengers comfortable during the ordeal.
"We pride ourselves on providing our guests a great vacation experience," said Carnival Chief Executive Gerald R. Cahill. "Clearly, we failed in this particular case."
The cruise industry has been growing steadily since 1980, and more than 14 million people took cruises last year. Analysts say the incident won't necessarily deter vacationers from booking future cruises, though, because people have become accustomed to stories about mechanical issues or outbreaks of sickness, and the industry doesn't typically see a dropoff following such events.
Passengers aboard the Triumph are to receive a full refund for their tickets, as well as future cruise discounts. They will also receive $500 from the cruise company.
"This is my first and last cruise. So if anyone wants my free cruise, look me up," one passenger told Fox News.
Potential legal action against Carnival following the incident would be difficult because of the language included when passengers purchase tickets. It severely limits their ability to recover damages in court, and maritime law also prevents rewarding any damages for emotional distress.
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