(towing operations under way; ship to return to San Diego)
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES Nov 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier diverted from training maneuvers helped deliver supplies on Tuesday to an American luxury liner and 3,300 vacationers left stranded off the Mexican coast by an engine-room fire.
The nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan anchored at sea near the disabled Carnival Cruise Lines ship about 50 miles west of Punta San Jacinto, Mexico, and 150 miles south of San Diego, as helicopters began ferrying food, water and other provisions to the marooned vessel.
The Supplies were being flown from shore to the Ronald Reagan, part of the Navy's Third Fleet, by military planes, Navy Commander Greg Hicks said by telephone.
Operating costs for an aircraft carrier and the dozens of planes and helicopters that go with it typically run about $1 million a day, including fuel, food and salaries, said Navy spokeswoman Chief Petty Officer Terry Feeney.
The 952-foot-long (290 meters) luxury liner, dubbed the Carnival Splendor, had nearly 3,300 passengers and almost 1,200 crew members aboard when the fire erupted in its engine room on Monday morning.
No injuries were reported. Passengers were initially ushered from their cabins to the ship's upper open-deck areas as a precaution.
The blaze took about three hours to extinguish and crippled the ship's propulsion system, leaving the vessel dead in the water and forcing Carnival to cancel the rest of its voyage.
Miami-based company, a unit of the world's largest cruise line, Carnival Corp (CCL.N), said it was trying to get its passengers home as quickly as possible.
"Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring," Carnival president and chief executive Gerry Cahill said in a statement.
Plans originally called for towing the disabled ship to the port of Ensenada, Mexico, then transporting the passengers by bus to Tijuana. But later in the day, Carnival said the vessel was being towed by tugboats to San Diego. An arrival time was not immediately known.
A company spokeswoman said the Carnival Splendor normally carries enough food and water to last at least a week but ran short because its refrigeration was knocked out.
Despite some remaining power provided by auxiliary generators, the ship's air conditioning, hot food service and telephones also were lost. But engineers managed to restore toilet service to all cabins and restrooms Monday night.
The ship began its voyage on Sunday from Long Beach, south of Los Angeles. Its normal seven-day itinerary includes stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
The USS Ronald Reagan and its crew of 5,000 were conducting training exercises in preparation for an upcoming deployment when the U.S. Coast Guard requested help in delivering supplies to the cruise ship, then about 50 miles away, he said.
Carnival said passengers from the disabled ship would be given a full refund and reimbursement for transportation costs, as well as a complimentary future cruise of equal value. (Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Editing by Greg McCune)