November 9, 2010 / 7:55 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 2-Aircraft carrier arrives to help stranded cruise ship

(adds aircraft carrier costs, cruise ship conditions)

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier arrived on Tuesday and began delivering supplies to an American luxury liner left stranded off the Mexican coast after an engine fire with 3,300 vacationers on board.

The nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan, diverted from a training mission in the Pacific, anchored at sea near the disabled Carnival Splendor ship about 50 miles west of Punta San Jacinto, Mexico, and 150 miles south of San Diego. Helicopters began ferrying food, water and other provisions to the marooned vessel, the Navy said.

"Supplies are being offloaded onto the deck as we speak," Navy Commander Greg Hicks told Reuters by telephone.

Provisions for the cruise ship were being flown from shore to the Ronald Reagan, part of the Navy's Third Fleet, by military planes, he said.

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 Carnival Cruise Lines ship, a 952-foot-long (290 meters) luxury liner with nearly 3,300 passengers and a crew of almost 1,200 aboard, was left dead in the water by a fire that 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.

Mexican authorities said the ship will be towed to the port of Ensenada, Mexico, where the passengers will disembark and then be transported by bus to Tijuana. Tug boats dispatched from Ensenada were expected to reach the vessel around midday.

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines, which is 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.

A company spokeswoman said the Carnival Splendor normally carries enough food and water to last at least a week but ran short because the ship lost its refrigeration.

Despite some remaining power provided by auxiliary generators, the air conditioning, hot food service and telephones on the ship also were knocked. But engineers managed to restore toilet service to all cabins and restrooms Monday night.

The blaze, which took about three hours to put out, also crippled the Splendor's propulsion system, forcing Carnival to cancel the rest of the voyage.

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)

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