Posted on 11/11/10
(CNN) — A disabled Carnival Cruise Lines ship with thousands of passengers on board was nearing its pier in San Diego on Thursday, although it will take some time for it to dock, the Coast Guard said.
As of about 7:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. ET), the Carnival Splendor was about four miles from its pier, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Rachel Polish. Towed by six tugboats, it was approaching at about 6 mph, meaning it should be at the pier in less than an hour, she said.
But when it arrives, the tugs must be reconfigured and bring the ship in portside, or on its left side, she said. That process could take a while, Polish said.
The passengers — all 3,300 of them — will disembark with tales from the three-day ordeal that began with a fire in the ship’s engine room. Engineers were unable to restore power to the ship after the fire was extinguished, leaving passengers without air conditioning, hot showers or decent meals. Instead, they had to settle for Spam and Pop-Tarts dropped off by the USS Ronald Reagan, which came to assist.
Aerial footage showed passengers congregating on the decks and at the railing as the ship was towed in.
While Carnival said Wednesday that most passengers knew that the Splendor’s crew was doing the best it could, there were reports of passengers pledging not to take up the company’s offer of a free replacement trip.
The vessel became stranded Monday after an engine-room fire off the coast of Mexico.
Because the ship is without most of its power, the company decided to wait until daylight for tugboats to deliver the Splendor to a dock, Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill said at a news conference.
Carnival noted that as the ship gets closer to the coast, passengers are increasingly able to receive “intermittent cellular service.”
The ship’s crew had set up a call center for passengers to make urgent calls.
“Obviously, with eight phones and 3,300 people, you are going to have a pretty big backup,” Cahill said.
One passenger, David Zambrano, a KUSA-TV employee, called his Denver, Colorado, station Wednesday from his cell phone and said many passengers were in the dark in their cabins and had to wait in line for two hours to eat the cold meals, which were being delivered to the ship by helicopter from the USS Ronald Reagan.
“Many of the people I have talked to said that they will never take another cruise again, especially with Carnival,” said Zambrano, who was able to enjoy some sunlight because he has a stateroom with a balcony.
“It’s nothing like anyone expected, no,” Zambrano said. “You stand in line for two hours just to get your food because everybody goes to the same place to pick up their food. And, so you stand in line and you wait, then once you get your food, you leave and you look for something to do.
“People are playing cards. People are standing around just kind of talking. They’re getting to socialize,” Zambrano said. “It’s not what you would expect on a normal cruise, of course not, but it’s — they’re doing their best. The crew is doing their best to keep everybody satisfied and make sure that they’re watching everything.
“The only thing that made it really tough was when the facilities were all broken down and all the bathrooms weren’t working and people were starting to get uncomfortable,” Zambrano said. “But now that they started getting those things going and the water flowing, then that made all the difference.”
In addition to offering a free cruise, Carnival has promised passengers a refund and said it will cover transportation costs.
“Conditions on the ship have been challenging,” said Cahill, reiterating apologies to families.
“We’re disappointed about it. Reports from the ship show guests believe we are doing the best we can,” Cahill said. “We ruined their vacations. I am optimistic they will return.”
Cahill said the crew has done the best it can in making the passengers comfortable, including offering free drinks. The pool was closed because the ship didn’t have the power to run its chlorination system.
Passenger Lenora Chavez said Wednesday some of the plumbing was at capacity and vomit bags were hanging in corridors.
But the situation had improved Thursday morning as the ship neared land, Chavez said.
“It has not been too bad,” she said. “Everybody has been in good spirits. We have had entertainment and a lot of music. They are trying their best to keep us comfortable.”
Carnival told CNN that most of the plumbing is functioning and the ship’s doctors report few ill passengers.
A crew of about 1,200 is on board.
A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier resupplied the cruise ship Tuesday evening. Sailors stood on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in 50-yard lines, handing off boxes of water, frozen bread, sandwich meats, granola bars, paper plates and more for the Splendor.
Navy pilot Tamara Graham and Chief Petty Officer Steve Sinclair said they made 15 round trips from the Reagan to the stranded cruise ship.
“When we first showed up on scene, [passengers] were taking pictures, and flash bulbs were going off everywhere,” Sinclair said. “Once we dropped our equipment, we were getting a lot of waves.”
The Reagan received 60,000 pounds of food, bottled water and supplies by airlift for the cruise ship, said Cmdr. Greg Hicks, spokesman of the U.S. Third Fleet.
Graham said water “was definitely the top priority” on the list of supplies to bring on board the ship.
Carnival said it is making hotel and flight arrangements for guests once they reach port. About 100 representatives will be at the port Thursday to help passengers with transportation, hotel and other needs, Cahill said.
Crews will follow environmental and sanitation protocols when they begin unloading food spoiled because of the loss of refrigeration, said Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva.
The fire occurred about 6 a.m. Monday in the engine room of the Splendor, the cruise line said in a statement on its website. The blaze was extinguished, and no passengers or crew were injured.
Engineers were not able to restore power to the ship, which was operating on auxiliary generators, a Carnival statement said.
The seven-day cruise along the Mexican coast departed Sunday from Long Beach, California. Carnival has canceled a seven-day cruise that was to leave November 14 from Long Beach, the company said.
“We’ve been in business for 35 years,” Cahill said. “We’ve never had anything like this happen before.”
John Heald, Carnival’s senior cruise director, blogged Wednesday from the Carnival Splendor. “I have to say that the crew has been absolutely epic and I am so very proud of each and every one of them,” he wrote.
“One thing is for certain though,” Heald added. “I doubt anyone onboard will ever, ever want to eat a sandwich ever again.”
Source (pictures): VIRGINHOLIDAYSCRUISES, CRUISEWEB,THECRUISESENTRE