* Docking of ship ends ill-fated voyage
* Ship lost power and toilets overflowed
* First lawsuit against Carnival Corp filed
By Kaija Wilkinson
MOBILE, Ala., Feb 15 Thousands of passengers who
spent nearly five days stuck on a disabled cruise ship in the
Gulf of Mexico headed home on Friday by bus, plane or car,
relishing the chance for a warm shower and working toilets after
finally arriving back on land.
"I got some sleep. I got a shower. A working toilet was
really nice," said Nancy Petrone, 58, who was flying to southern
California after spending the night in Mobile, Alabama, where
tugboats had pulled the stricken Carnival Triumph into port.
It took several hours for more than 3,000 vacationers to
make their way off the ship after it arrived late on Thursday.
Some travelers kissed the ground when they arrived, while others
disembarked wearing the ship's white bath robes - part souvenir
and part protection against the chilly night air.
About 100 buses carried passengers on the seven-hour journey
to Galveston, Texas, while other buses departed for shorter
rides to New Orleans or to hotels in Mobile.
One bus broke down on its way to New Orleans, said passenger
Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a
healthcare and hospice company.
Carnival officials said the Triumph, which entered service
in 1999, would be towed on Friday to a Mobile shipyard for a
The 893-foot (272-meter) vessel was returning to Galveston
from Cozumel, Mexico, on the third day of a four-day cruise when
an engine-room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most
of the ship on Sunday.
Passengers described an overpowering stench on parts of the
ship and complained to relatives and media via cellphones that
toilets and drainpipes had overflowed, soaking many cabins and
interior passages in raw sewage.
The saga, which received extensive coverage on U.S. cable
news programs, was another public relations disaster for
Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise company. Last
year, its Costa Concordia luxury liner ran aground off the coast
of Italy, killing 32 people.
The nature of the troubles aboard the Triumph inspired
bathroom-humor banter among late-night comedy shows and the
amateur comedians who took to Twitter with poop puns.
But not everyone was in a joking mood. One passenger, Cassie
Terry, of Brazoria County, Texas, filed a lawsuit against the
company in federal court in Miami, describing the ship as "a
floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell."
Still, lawyers warned passengers could have a difficult time
winning damages in court, while industry analysts said the lure
of inexpensive vacations at sea is likely to keep the booming
worldwide cruise industry on course toward strong profits.
PRAISE FOR CREW
Passengers had some harsh words for Carnival, but praised
the efforts of the ship's crew during the ordeal.
"Just imagine the filth," said Combs, 30. "People were doing
crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It
was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up."
Facing criticism over the company's response, Carnival
Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill boarded the ship after
it arrived in Mobile to personally apologize to passengers.
"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great
vacation experience and, clearly, we failed in this particular
case," Cahill said.
Some passengers said conditions deteriorated rapidly on the
Triumph earlier in the week, with people getting sick and being
told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.
Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on
the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be evacuated and
relocated to other decks of the 14-story ship, where passengers
said they slept under sheets for the rest of the voyage.
Some said they tried to pass the time playing cards and
organizing Bible study groups, as well as scavenger hunts for
the children who were on board.
Conditions improved on Thursday after a generator was
delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot
meals. Passengers said toilets began flushing again and the ship
served steaks and lobster - a welcome relief after a steady diet
of cold cucumber and cheese sandwiches.
Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival said
passengers will be reimbursed in full, plus transportation
expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for
this voyage, and an additional payment of $500 per person to
help compensate them for the ordeal.
Several passengers scoffed at the offer.
"If I go on another cruise, it will not be with Carnival,"
Petrone said on Friday. "I plan to return their voucher for a
Carnival Corp Chief Executive Micky Arison drew criticism in
January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal
charge during the Costa Concordia crisis. The tragedy resulted
in numerous lawsuits being filed against his company.
Arison made his first public comment about the Triumph
incident on Friday via Twitter.
"We are very sorry for the difficult conditions experienced
by our guests on Carnival Triumph, but glad that all guests are
off safe and sound," he said.
Carnival Corp shares on Friday closed down 43 cents, or 1.15
percent, at $36.92 on the New York Stock Exchange.