Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Triumph in a file photo. (Photo: Andy Newman, Carnival Cruise Lines)
Gene Sloan, USA TODAY
The giant Carnival cruise ship that was left adrift in the Gulf of Mexico after a weekend fire will be towed to Mobile, Ala., and should get there Thursday, the cruise line said Monday night.
Earlier Monday, Carnival had said the 102,000-ton Carnival Triumph would be towed to Progreso, Mexico, which at the time was closer, and arrive by late Wednesday. But the ship has since drifted about 90 miles north because of strong currents, putting it equidistant to Mobile.
"Given the strength of the currents, it is preferable to head north to Mobile, rather than attempt to tow against them," Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement issued late Monday.
The first of two tugboats that will pull the Carnival Triumph to Mobile arrived on the scene Monday evening, and the second is expected to arrive early Tuesday, Cahill said.
Passengers on the Carnival Triumph have described uncomfortable conditions in the wake of the fire, which occurred Sunday morning. While the blaze was contained to the engine room with the help of the ship's automatic fire suppression systems, it resulted in a loss of power used to operate air conditioning, elevators and toilets in passenger areas as well as kitchen equipment used to prepare hot meals. For a time, the vessel's freshwater system also was down.
At least some passengers spent Sunday night sleeping on the Carnival Triumph's open decks due to lack of air conditioning in the ship. Plastic bags were used as makeshift toilets.
Carnival on Monday said technicians on the Carnival Triumph had restored its freshwater system, and toilets were operating in some parts of the vessel. Some power had been restored to the ship's Lido buffet, allowing for hot coffee and limited hot food service. Power also has been restored to a limited number of elevators on the ship, making it easier for passengers to move around the vessel.
None of the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew on board the Carnival Triumph were injured during the fire, but on Monday a passenger in need of dialysis was transferred off the ship to another Carnival vessel, the Carnival Legend, for transport to Cozumel, Mexico. Arriving Monday afternoon, the Legend also provided meals for passengers on the Triumph. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Vigorous also is on the scene.
At the time of the fire, the Carnival Triumph was near the end of a four-night cruise to Mexico out of Galveston, Texas that began on Thursday. The ship had been scheduled to return to Galveston early Monday. Carnival says it is arranging to get passengers back home from Mobile after the ship arrives on Thursday.
Industry analyst Tim Conder of Wells Fargo on Monday estimated the incident could cost parent company Carnival Corp. as much as 10 cents per share, or nearly $80 million, in lost revenue, passenger reimbursements and repair costs.
The fire also could take a toll on future bookings for the line, although industry watchers say it's too soon to know for sure. While the incident comes at the height of the busiest time of the year for cruise bookings, a period known as Wave Season, travel agents on Monday weren't bracing for a downturn in business, in part because the story has yet to get major play in the media, says Mike Driscoll of Cruiseweek, an industry newsletter.
"That's partly due to the lack of injuries, but also because of the headline-grabbing resignation of the pope," says Driscoll, noting that the pope's surprise resignation resulted in less media exposure for the incident than it otherwise might have gotten. "Of course, that could all change."
The Carnival Triumph fire comes just two years after another Carnival ship, the 113,000-ton Carnival Splendor, was disabled off the Pacific coast of Mexico by a fire during a cruise from California - a similar incident that ultimately had a negative impact on cruise bookings in the state, says Driscoll.
"The (Carnival Splendor) story became big not only in print and TV but social media," Driscoll says. "That really didn't happen until after the ship was towed back into port."
The Carnival Triumph fire is just the latest in a string of serious incidents involving cruise ships, most notably the Costa Concordia capsizing in January 2012 that left 32 passengers dead. In another incident this weekend, five crew members of a 1,056-passenger ship operated by UK-based Thomson Cruises were killed in an accident during a safety drill.
After the fire on the Carnival Splendor in late 2010, the ship was out of service for months. Carnival has not said how long it thinks the Carnival Triumph could be out of service, but the line already has cancelled the ship's next two voyages.
Carnival also moved quickly to offer all passengers on the current sailing of the Carnival Triumph a full refund for the trip as well as a credit for a future cruise.