Stranded cruise passengers now heading to Mobile, AL, instead of Mexico

In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard on Feb. 11, 2013, a small boat belonging to the Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous patrols near the cruise ship Carnival Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico, Feb. 11, 2013. The Carnival Triumph has been floating aimlessly about 150 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula since a fire erupted in the aft engine room early Sunday, knocking out the ship's propulsion system. No one was injured and the fire was extinguished. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard- Lt. Cmdr. Paul McConnell)

February 12, 2013 3:40:57 AM PST
Passengers aboard a cruise vessel stranded in the Gulf of Mexico have been anxiously awaiting tug boats to tow their ship to port, but now that they've arrived, the plans have changed -- again.

The Carnival Triumph has been floating aimlessly about 150 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula since a fire erupted in the aft engine room early Sunday, knocking out the ship's propulsion system. No one was injured and the fire was extinguished. The ship has been operating on backup generator power since the incident.

The ship, which left Galveston on Thursday and was scheduled to return there Monday, will instead be towed back to port, possibly arriving Thursday.

The first of two tugboats arrived and is tied up to the ship with the second expected in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Officials had planned to tow the ship to Progreso, Mexico, the closest port to the ship's location early Sunday. Since that time, the ship has drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents.

This now puts the ship nearly equidistant to Mobile, Alabama, and given the strength of the currents, the cruise line says it is preferable to head north to Mobile, rather than attempt to tow against the currents. They expect to arrive in Mobile sometime on Thursday, roughly the same time the ship would have arrived in Progreso given the distance the ship has traveled. From Mobile, the 3,143 passengers on board will be flown back. There are also 1,086 crew members aboard the ship.

Carnival cancelled the ship's next two cruises, departing Monday and Saturday, leaving destination wedding plans in shambles for a local bride-to-be.

Summer Gallagher has been planning her Valentine's Day wedding in Cozumel for months. So when she got word Sunday night that the cruise was cancelled, she was at a loss.

"Shock, at first the room kind of started spinning and I had to sit down for a minute," she recalled.

When passengers on the Carnival Triumph boarded the ship on Thursday, they didn't expect to be adrift on the Gulf of Mexico. But after the fire that left the ship crippled, at first, emotions ran high, according to a passenger on board who contacted Eyewitness News. Things have calmed down, although it's not exactly the vacation Donna Guzman imagined.

"There's no lights, no water," Guzamn said. "We can't flush. Some people were able to shower."

Gallagher had a ticket on the ship's next voyage, supposed to be the first leg of her wedding trip.

"It's kind of your worst nightmare as a bride," she said.

Now Gallagher and close to 30 friends and family are at a hotel in Kemah, wondering what to do next.

"It was very upsetting for the entire family," said Michelle Curlee, the groom's sister. "A lot of family members had taken off of work, which is not easy."

The couple's five-year-old daughter is still in high spirits, still singing the song she planned to perform at her parents' wedding. Gallagher doesn't know how or when the dream wedding can be rescheduled.

"It would be a miracle at another date," she said.

Late Monday afternoon brought some relief for Gallagher and her husband-to-be. A Carnival spokesman emailed me to say the cruise line will reimburse the couple's non-refundable costs for their wedding.

In the meantime, as tug boats arrive, Guzman says the more than 3,000 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members are making the best of it.

"No one was injured," she said. "Most of us are camping out on the top deck where it's nice and cool."

When another Carnival cruise ship, the Legend, rendezvoused with the stranded vessel Monday, supplying Triumph passengers with food and supplies, passengers were able to call out with borrowed cell phone signals.

Carnival tells me that the ship indeed has had problems recently -- an electrical issue with one of the ship's alternators, but that it's been repaired and is unrelated to Sunday's fire.

A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That vessel was also stranded for three days with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.

Concerned family and loved ones of guests and crew may call 888-290-5095 or 305-406-5534.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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