(ABC News)–Elderly and disabled passengers aboard the fire-damaged Carnival Cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico are struggling to cope with the worsening conditions, according to at least one passenger.
“Elderly and handicap are struggling, the smell is gross,” passenger Ann Barlow text-messaged ABC News overnight. “Our room is leaking sewage.”
The head of Carnival Cruise Lines said the British-U.S.-owned company was working hard to ensure the thousands of passengers stranded on the disabled ship were as comfortable as possible while the vessel was being towed to a port in Alabama.
“I need to apologize to our guests and to our families that have been affected by a very difficult situation,” Carnival Cruise Lines president and CEO Gerry Cahill said at a news conference Tuesday evening.
It was the first time since a fire erupted in Triumph's engine room Sunday, knocking out its four engines, that a company representative had spoken publicly. The Triumph, with roughly 4,200 people on board, was left bobbing like a 100,000-ton cork for more than 24 hours. Giant sea-faring tugboats then hooked up to the ship and began towing the nearly 900-foot-long ship to land.
The Carnival Triumph is being towed to Mobile, Ala., and should arrive Thursday afternoon, if weather permits.
Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva told The Associated Press Tuesday that a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution. Everyone else will likely have to weather conditions such as scarce running water, no air conditioning and long lines for food.
Back on land, passenger Barlow's 11-year-old twins told ABC News Tuesday they are worried as more passengers continue to talk about living with limited power and sanitation.
“I just hope that she comes back safely and sound,” Colby Barlow, 11, said of his mother.
U.S. Coast Guard officials say the passengers are safe, if somewhat uncomfortable.
But the destruction aboard the ship, the compensation to passengers, the costs of returning them home, the towing and other expenses could hurt the Doral, Fla.-based cruising colossus, at least temporarily.
“The financial cost to Carnival is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, some estimates as high as $80 million,” ABC News travel and lifestyle editor Genevieve Shaw Brown said. “It remains to be seen how badly this will hurt their brand.”
If all goes as scheduled and tugboats nudge the ship into port in Mobile Thursday, Alabama Cruise Terminal general manager Sheila Gurganus said, the disembarking passengers will be met by a medical triage center and extra security in case they need it.
The cruise line said it has been busily making arrangements for the ship's passengers when they reach the shore.
More than 1,500 hotel rooms have been reserved in Mobile and New Orleans and more than 20 chartered flights have been booked to fly passengers back to Houston Friday after they have had a chance to rest, Cahill said. For those wishing to get home sooner, the company is organizing charter buses to Houston and Galveston.
The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston last Thursday with 3,143 guests and 1,086 crew on board for a Mexican cruise, which was due to return Monday.
The Triumph has had a past electrical problem with an alternator, but Carnival says that is not connected to the fire or the current situation.
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