Ben Russell, NBC 5 News
As the stranded cruise ship Carnival Triumph approaches shore Tuesday night, being towed by tugboats toward Mobile, AL, NBC 5 is hearing reports of worsening conditions on board.
Passengers onboard a disabled cruise ship being towed to shore in the Gulf of Mexico told relatives they are using plastic bags to do "their business" and are otherwise trying to make the best of a bad situation by sleeping under the stars instead of in their stuffy, hot cabins.
The head of Carnival Cruise Lines says his company is working hard to ensure passengers stranded on a disabled cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico are as comfortable as possible while the vessel is towed to port.
Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said at a news conference Tuesday in Miami that most public restrooms on the ship are working, as are some bathrooms in guest cabins. He also said there's running water on the ship.
Cahill's comments are in contrast to what some passengers have told relatives. They described dirty and hot conditions aboard the ship, including overflowing toilets and limited access to food.
Lindsey Peterson, of Irving, said her parents told her there is not enough food and water to go around.
"They waited in line for two hours [for food] Monday," she said. "They got a hamburger bun with cucumber slices inside."
Her mother's biggest complaint is about the bathrooms, she said.
"Their floor is on the first floor, which is having some sewage problems," Petersen said. "And last that I heard, there's some sewage leaking down the walls. And they're still having to use the restroom in showers. And she says the boat smells awful and people are getting sick because of the smell."
Jimmy Mowlam, 63, said his 37-year-old son, Rob Mowlam, told him by phone Monday night that the lack of ventilation onboard Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Triumph had made it too hot to sleep inside. He said Rob and his new bride -- they got married onboard Saturday -- are among the many passengers who have set up camp on the ocean liner's decks and in its common areas.
"He said up on deck it looks like a shanty town, with sheets, almost like tents, mattresses, anything else they can pull to sleep on," said Mowlam, 63, who is from Warren, in southeast Texas. His son is from nearby Nederland.
The ship left Galveston, Texas, for a four-day cruise last Thursday carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members. On Sunday, the ship was about 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source, crippling its water and plumbing systems and leaving it adrift on only a backup power.
There were no reported injuries caused by the fire, but Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva said Tuesday that a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was taken off the ship as a precaution.
Everyone else will likely have to remain onboard until the ship reaches Mobile, Ala., which is expected to happen Thursday, weather permitting.
Besides the two tugs, at least two other Carnival cruise ships have been diverted to the Triumph to leave supplies and a 210-foot Coast Guard cutter was at the scene, Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm said Tuesday.
"If they do need any help, we're there," he said.
Mowlam said his son told him there is no running water and few working toilets and passengers were given plastic bags to "use for their business."
"But so far people have been pretty much taking it in stride," Mowlam said his son told him.
Rob Mowlam told his father the ship's crew had started giving away free alcohol to passengers.
"He was concerned about what that was going to lead to when people start drinking too much," Mowlam said.
Other passengers have described more dire conditions, including overflowing toilets and limited access to food.
Texas resident Brent Nutt, whose wife is on the cruise ship, said Monday that she told him the "whole boat stinks extremely bad" and some passengers were getting sick and throwing up. Nutt said his wife reported "water and feces all over the floor."
Carnival hasn't determined what caused the fire or how it caused the electrical problems that have crippled the ship's water and plumbing systems, said Oliva, the company spokeswoman.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday it has opened an investigation into the cause of the fire. The NTSB said the Bahamas Maritime Agency will lead the investigation because the ship carries a Bahamian flag.
The ship was originally going to be towed to the port in Progreso, Mexico, but after currents pushed it northward, a decision was made to take it to Mobile to make it easier for passengers without passports to get home, the company said.
A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That vessel was also stranded for three days with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.
Carnival said in a statement that it had canceled the Triumph's next two voyages scheduled to depart Monday and Saturday. Passengers aboard the stranded ship will also receive a full refund, the statement said.
The ship was stranded after a weekend engine fire. It's being towed to Mobile, Ala., and is expected to arrive Thursday.
NBC 5's Ben Russell and Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.