Disabled Cruise Ship Setback: Tow Line Snaps

The crippled cruise ship slowly making its way back to land suffered another setback when a tow line snapped, briefly setting the vessel adrift once again.

Passengers on board the Carnival Triumph have described overflowing toilets, sewage backed up in showers, scarce food and people getting sick, bringing the scene into sharper focus after a week at sea.

What began as a four-day voyage in the Gulf of Mexico has turned into a holiday nightmare.

Passengers were expected to make it to shore Thursday - only to then face an hours-long bus ride or other travel hassles to finally get back home.

Frustrations with the cruise line were simmering on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it has taken so long to get back to dry land after an engine-room fire disabled the ship on Sunday.

"There's poop and urine all along the floor," Renee Shanar, of Houston, said from her mobile phone aboard the ship. "The floor is flooded with sewer water ... and we had to poop in bags."

The ship was in sight of the Alabama shore on Thursday afternoon when the tow line broke. Coast Guard crews managed to reconnect the line, but it was still expected to take several hours before the ship makes port in Mobile.

The 14-storey ship – carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew - still has to negotiate a tricky shipping channel before it can  dock. Before the line broke, the ship was travelling about 5 mph (8kph).

Ms Shanar, who is on the ship with her husband, said the couple had a cabin with no windows, so they have been sleeping outside for days. She said food has been distributed on the ninth floor, and some of the elderly have needed younger people to bring it to them.

They were initially only given cold cuts, like turkey and vegetable sandwiches. Then another cruise line dropped off hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, but the line for that fare was nearly four hours long.

"And then people started getting sick from the food," she said.

The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.

Terry Thornton, senior vice president for Carnival Cruise Lines, said they received an extra generator that allowed them to serve hot food on the ship Wednesday night, and that food services will be fully operational by the time they dock.

When passengers arrive in Alabama, they will be given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston - a roughly seven-hour drive - or taking a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 hotel rooms.

Those staying in New Orleans will be flown on Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.

"I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus," said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. "If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus."

Thelbert Lanier was waiting at the Mobile port for his wife, who sent him a text message from the ship early Thursday.

His wife wrote: "Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven't work in 3 1/2 days. Happy Valentines Day!!! I love u & wish I was there."

Robert Giordano, whose 33-year-old wife Shannon is aboard the cruise liner with a group of friends from Edmond, Oklahoma, said he has yet to speak to someone at Carnival.

All his information has come through pre-recorded phone calls, the most recent one Wednesday when he was told the ship would "probably" arrive in Mobile late on Thursday or early Friday. He found out more, he said, when NBC's Today show called him.

Mr Giordano said: "That's the biggest frustration for me now is that the media knows more than the family members do and certainly more than the passengers do on the ship."

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the company has tried to keep families updated and established a free hotline number for friends and relatives. He said about 200 Carnival employees are in Mobile waiting to assist passengers upon their arrival.

The ship left Galveston for a four-day cruise last Thursday. It was about 150 miles (240 km) off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source, crippling its water and plumbing systems and leaving it adrift on only backup power.

No one was injured in the fire, but a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution. The National Transportation Safety Board said it has opened an investigation into the cause.

The ship, which had been plagued by other mechanical problems in recent weeks, will remain idle for several months.

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