The ordeal of the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship carrying 4,000passengers and crew appeared to be almost over, with people starting todisembark in Mobile, Ala., after days at sea without power in often squalidconditions.
After the ship arrived at port around 9:30 p.m. local time (10:30 p.m. ET),Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill praised the ship's crew and toldreporters that he was headed on board to apologize directly to its passengers.
Passengers appeared to begin disembarking around 10:15 p.m. CT (11:15 p.m.ET).
The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston, Texas, Thursday and lost powerSunday after a fire in the engine room disabled the vessel's propulsion systemand knocked out most of its power.
After power went out, passengers texted ABC News that sewage was seepingdown the walls from burst plumbing pipes, carpets were wet with urine, and foodwas in short supply. Reports surfaced of elderly passengers running out ofcritical heart medicine and others on board squabbling over scarce food.
"I know the conditions on board were very poor," Cahill said."I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again forsubjecting our guests for that. ... Clearly, we failed in this particularcase."
It could take up to five hours to get everybody off the huge ship.
"Inside the terminal, there's also warm food available," saidTerry Thornton, Carnival's senior vice president of marketing. "There areblankets, there are cell phones and refreshments available for the guests thatneed that or want that assistance.
Passengers will have the options of boarding buses to Houston or Galveston,Texas, about seven hours away, or New Orleans, about two hours away, officialssaid.
"We have gotten our guests back to land," Cahill said. "Now,we need to get them home. ... The full resources of Carnival are working fromhere to get them home as quickly as we possibly can."
At an earlier news conference this afternoon, Thornton said that anyone withspecial needs and children will be the first to get off the boat. He said thecompany's No. 1 priority is to make the process as "quick, efficient andcomfortable" for guests as possible.
"There are some limitations. We know that up front," Thorntonsaid. "The ship still does not have power. We only have one functioningelevator aboard."
The passengers were achingly close to port about noon today as the shipbegan to enter the channel and proceed to the cruise terminal. At 1 p.m., thelead tow boat had a tow gear break, so a spare tug boat that was on standby hadto be sent in to replace it.
But once the second tug was in position and the lines were re-set, thetowing resumed only briefly before the tow line snapped.
"We had to replace that tow line, so the ship did not begin progressingback into the cruise terminal until 2 p.m.," Thornton said
Passengers desperate to get off the vessel waved at media helicopters thatflew out to film the ship and passenger Rob Mowlam told ABCNews.com by phonetoday that most of the passengers on board were "really upbeat andpositive."
Nevertheless, when he gets off Mowlam said, "I will probably flush thetoilet 10 times just because I can."
Mowlam, 37, gotmarried on board the Triumph Friday and said he and his wife, StephanieStevenson, 27, haven't yet thought of redoing the honeymoon other than to say,"It won't be a cruise."
Alabama State Port Authority Director Jimmy Lyons said that with powerless"dead ships" like the Triumph, it is usually safer to bring them induring daylight hours, but, "Once they make the initial effort to comeinto the channel, there's no turning back."
"There are issues regarding coming into the ship channel and docking atnight because the ship has no power and there's safety issues there,"Richard Tillman of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau toldABCNews.com.
When asked if the ship could be disembarked in the dark of night, Tillmansaid, "It is not advised. It would be very unusual."
Thornton denied the rumors that there was a fatality on the ship. He saidthat there was one illness early on, a dialysis patient, but that passenger wasremoved from the vessel and transferred to a medical facility.
The U.S. Coast Guard was assisting and there were multiple generators onboard. Customs officials were to board the ship while it was being piloted toport to accelerate the embarkation, officials said.
Carnival Cruise Ship Delayed by Snapped Tow Line
After eight days at sea, many of them without power, the ship's owners haveincreased the compensation for what some on board are calling the vacation fromhell.
All 3,143 passengers aboard the 900 foot colossus, which stalled in the Gulfof Mexico after an engine room fire early Sunday, were already being given afull refund for the cruise, transportation expenses and vouchers for a anothercruise. Carnival Cruise Lines is now boosting that offer to include another$500 per person. Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of CarnivalCruise Lines, announced the additional compensation Wednesday.
"We know it hasbeen a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the weekunder very challenging circumstances," he said in a statement. "Weare very sorry for what our guests have had to endure. Therefore, in additionto the full refund and future cruise credit already offered, we have decided toprovide this additional compensation."
Carnival added that it has canceled a dozen planned voyages for the Triumphand acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanicalproblems in the weeks before an engine-room fire left it powerless in the Gulfof Mexico.
ABC News flew over the ship providing the first aerial views of the shipshowing curious passengers gathering at the rails, looking up at the ABC Newsplane. It also seemed from the air that deck chairs had been turned into beds.
"[There are] no showers. The smell's terrible. We are camping ondeck," passenger Ann Barlow told ABC News.
Mary Poray, whose 12-year-old daughter Rebekah is traveling on the Triumph,teared up when shown images of the ship's deck.
"I just need to know that she's OK," Poray said. "The worstpart was when she said, 'Mommy, I'm afraid I won't ever get to see youagain."
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