Crippled cruise docks at Alabama terminal



Mobile(Alabama): A cruise ship disabled for five nightmarish days in the Gulf limped into port under tow with more than 4,000 people aboard, passengers raucously cheering the end to an ocean odyssey they say was marked by overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.

People aboard the stricken, 14-storey Triumph, lined the deck rails late yesterday as passengers disembarked. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times on its final docking approach as some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.

About an hour after the ship pulled up at 9:15 pm local time, a steady stream of passengers began making their way down the glass-enclosed gang plank, some in wheelchairs and others pulling carry-on luggage. One man gave the thumbs up.

An ambulance pulled up to a gate at the bottom of the gang plank and then its lights went on and it pulled away. Some danced in celebration on one of the balconies. "Happy V-Day" read a homemade sign made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."

For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson of Texas, not knowing how long passengers had to endure their time aboard was the worst part.

"I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," said Ferguson, who was in a white robe given to her aboard. "The scariest part was just not knowing when we'd get back"

A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck of the terminal were waving lights at the ship as it was carefully making its way alongside. Those about were screaming, whistling and taking pictures.

Hundreds gawked from dockside at the arrival at the Alabama cruise terminal in Mobile, the state's only seaport, as the Triumph inched into port. It took six grueling hours navigating the roughly 48-kilometer ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 274 meters in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.

And even once it is stable, it will take four to five hours for all the 3,000 passengers to be off, said Carnival senior vice president of marketing Terry Thornton.

Passengers on board in texts and flitting cellphone calls described miserable conditions while at sea, many anxious to walk on solid ground. But for now, they waved towels at the throng at dockside and even motorists who stopped on the shoulder of major Interstate 10 near the port to watch the ship come in.

Buses started leaving the raucous terminal. Up to 100 had been reserved to carry passengers either on seven-hour ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. Some were also picked up in Mobile. From there, passengers will make their way home with Carnival's help.

"I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus," said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. "If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus."

The buses were standing by to take them to their next stop and Galveston is the home port of the ill-fated ship, which lost power in an engine-room fire Sunday some 242 kilometers off of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

It was the end of a cruise that wasn't at all what it should look like in a brochure.

PTI