Stranded cruise ship nears US coast

A Coast Guard helicopter delivers approximately 3,000 pounds of equipment to the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico on 13 February 2013The ship has been brought food and supplies by two other vessels

A stranded cruise ship with more than 4,000 people aboard is within sight of the US coast four days after an engine fire knocked out the vessel’s power.

Towed by tugboats, the Carnival Triumph is due to reach Mobile, Alabama on Thursday night, local time. It could take five hours to unload.

Buses will be waiting for the vessel’s passengers when they arrive.

Passengers have reported sewage on the floors, poor sanitation and access to toilets, and lengthy queues for food.

Carnival Corp, which operates the ship, was also the owner of Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground off the Italian coast and sank last year, killing 32 people.

‘Extremely terrible’

The cruise has entered the shipping channel but is still about seven to 10 hours from shore, a Carnival spokesman said at a news briefing in Mobile.

Passengers sleeping on the deck of the Carnival Cruise Ship

Passenger Zeshan Sharif tells the BBC conditions on board have been tough

Earlier, the tug boat towing the ship broke a tow gear, and a tow line snapped, but the ship is now moving, the spokesman said.

The company added it would take four to five hours to get all 3,000 passengers off the ship.

Everyone needs to be cleared by customs, but a team of US officials are on board in an effort to speed the process.

Once they are off the ship, passengers will be taken either to Galveston, Texas, which is about seven hours away, or to New Orleans, where the firm said it booked 1,500 hotel rooms. New Orleans is two hours away.

Passenger Janie Baker told NBC by phone on Thursday that conditions on the ship were “extremely terrible”. There was no electricity and few working toilets, she said.

Ms Baker described using plastic bags to go to the toilet and that she had seen a woman pass out while waiting for food.

“It’s just a nightmare,” she said.

Past mechanical problems

Ms Baker said she and her friends slept with their life vests one night because the ship was listing.

Passengers will be offered a full refund and discounts on future cruises. Carnival announced on Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 (£322) in compensation.

Passengers with makeshift tents on the deck of the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico 10 February 2013Passengers have slept on deck in makeshift tents

But the firm has disputed the accounts of passengers describing the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything they could to ensure people were comfortable.

Carnival has cancelled more than a dozen planned voyages aboard the Triumph, while acknowledging that the crippled ship had other mechanical problems in the weeks before the fire.

Spokesman Vance Gulliksen said Triumph had an earlier electrical problem with the ship’s alternator but that repairs were completed by 2 February. He said there was no evidence linking the previous problem to Sunday’s fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the fire.

No-one was injured in the blaze, but one passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution.

“We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” Carnival president and chief executive Gerry Cahill said in a statement.

“We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure.”

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