Cruise passengers return home, feds probe fire

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 16, 2013 at 6:28 am •  Published: February 16, 2013
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"The first thing we did was open up those Diet Cokes and we drank some," McIntosh said.

Others were still recuperating from the ordeal.

"I have an upset stomach pretty bad. I'll be seeing a doctor this afternoon," 53-year-old Sandy Jackson said as she checked out of a downtown Mobile hotel Friday, where relatives drove to pick her up. "Stress, food, everything. It was hard to eat properly."

A day's worth of car rides back home to Indiana wasn't very daunting for Brianna Adkins after the cruise, which she called the worst experience of her life.

Invited on the cruise by a relative who got a free trip for memorizing Bible verses, the 18-year-old preacher's daughter was shocked by conditions aboard the ship. The trip that began so great — swimming with dolphins in Cozumel and watching Las Vegas-style shows in the ship's theater — ended with her dissolving into tears in an Alabama cruise terminal after the ship had docked.

"You never think it will happen to you, but it did," Adkins said.

Tugs pulled the ship away from the dock Friday, moving it down a waterway to a shipyard where it will be repaired. Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the damage assessment was ongoing.

The cleanup seemed daunting. Passengers described water-logged carpet, sewage seeping through the walls, overflowing toilets and a stench so bad people choked when they tried to endure it.

But by most accounts, the crew did as much as they could, using disinfectant and picking up plastic bags of excrement after toilets stopped working.

Six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in Mobile to look into the cause of the engine-room fire, which happened some 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency was working with the Coast Guard and the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which will serve as the primary investigative agency.

The Bahamian government is taking the lead in the investigation because the Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and it was in international waters at the time of the incident, Holloway said.

The NTSB will be studying the mechanics of the ship "just like we would in any investigation, trying to determine what caused the fire, where the breakdown was," Holloway said. The investigation could also look at the ship's emergency procedures for passengers, he said.

Passengers described a horrifying scene after the fire. Some said they smelled smoke and received conflicting instructions about every 15 minutes over the PA system. Others ran for lifeboats.

No one was hurt in the fire, and just two people were taken off the ship for medical conditions as a precaution.

Connie Ede, of Houston, was on the cruise with her husband. During the fire, the two got their life jackets ready and put cellphones, passports, money and credit cards in their pockets.

"All in all, I wish it hadn't happened, but it did, and we survived," she said.

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized to passengers, saying late Thursday, "We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case."

The cruise line offered passengers a full refund of the cruise and transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount spent for the cruise, reimbursement for some shipboard expenses and $500 per person.

But those gestures may not be enough. Less than 24 hours after the boat docked, the first lawsuit was filed against Carnival Corp. by passenger Cassie Terry, who said she feared for her life and worried about falling seriously ill from the raw sewage and spoiled food. Her complaint seeks unspecified damages.

Gulliksen said the company hadn't seen the suit and was not in a position to comment.

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Associated Press writers Danny Robbins in Dallas; Mike Graczyk in Houston; Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Galveston; Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans; Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala.; Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Mobile, Ala., and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.