San Diego: The nearly 4,500 passengers and crew of the Carnival Splendor have no air conditioning or hot water. Running low on food, they have to eat canned crab meat and Spam dropped in by helicopters. And it will be a long, slow ride before they`re home.
What began as a seven-day cruise to the picturesque Mexican Riviera stopped around sunrise Monday when an engine-room fire cut power to the 952-foot vessel and set it adrift off Mexico`s Pacific coast.
The ship began moving again Tuesday night after the first of several Mexican tugboats en route to the stricken liner began pulling it toward San Diego, where it was expected to arrive Thursday night, Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement.
US Navy helicopters were ferrying 70,000 pounds of supplies, including the crab meat, croissants, Pop Tarts, Spam and other items, to the ship.
The Seahawk helicopters were taking off with dangling palettes of supplies from the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier diverted from training maneuvers to help. It arrived at the cruise ship late Tuesday.
The tugboats were originally set to take the Splendor to the Mexican coastal city of Ensenada, but the cruise line changed its plans and will attempt to have it towed to San Diego, where hotel and flight arrangements would await the passengers, Carnival said.
If the process moves too slowly, it may still be taken to Ensenada, the statement said.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf said the tugs and a Coast Guard cutter escort would have to move slowly because the ship is so big.
Accidents like the engine-room fire are rare, said Monty Mathisen, of the New York-based publication Cruise Industry News.
The last major cruise accident was in 2007 when a ship with more than 1,500 people sank after hitting rocks near the Aegean island of Santorini, Mathisen said. Two French tourists died.
"This stuff does not happen," he said. "The ships have to be safe, if not the market will collapse."
The Splendor, which left from Long Beach on Sunday, was 200 miles south of San Diego at the time of the engine fire, according to a statement from Miami-based Carnival. It began drifting about 55 miles off shore.
The 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members were not hurt, and the fire was put out in the generator`s compartment, but the ship had no air conditioning, hot water, cell phone or Internet service.
After the fire, passengers were first asked to move from their cabins to the ship`s upper deck, but eventually allowed to go back to their rooms. The ship`s auxiliary power allowed for toilets and cold running water.
Bottled water and cold food were provided, the company said.
The temperature in the area was 62 degrees, and there were scattered clouds, according to the Coast Guard.
Toni Sweet, of San Pedro, Calif., was frustrated when she couldn`t reach her cousin, Vicky Alvarez, aboard the ship. She said she called her cell phone and did not get an answer.
"We know everything is fine, but we`re just worried," Sweet said. "She was nervous about going on a cruise ship even before this happened and now with this, I don`t think she`ll ever go again."
Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva said the ship`s command is able to communicate with outsiders on a backup system.
On Tuesday, US sailors loaded cargo planes with supplies for the stranded passengers. The US Coast Guard deployed aircraft and ships, and the Mexican Navy was also helping but did not release details of its contribution.
The Splendor only had enough food to last through midday Tuesday because refrigerators on the ship stopped working after the power was knocked out, Navy Commander Greg Hicks said.
Hicks said 50,000 pounds of food had already been delivered by Tuesday afternoon.
Carnival Corp.`s stock was down about 1 percent Tuesday.
Mathisen commended the cruise line for its handling of the situation, saying officials responded quickly. But he said the accident could damage an industry already hurting from a drop in trips to Mexico because of drug violence.
It also will be costly for Carnival, which is refunding passengers, offering vouchers for future cruises and may have to dry dock the ship if the damage is extensive.
"We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests and we sincerely thank them for their patience," Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement.