HOUSTON — Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled voyages through April aboard the Triumph, a ship that has been plagued by mechanical problems in recent weeks and was finally left powerless in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine-room fire.
Carnival's announcement of the 12 canceled trips came today as the Triumph was being towed by two tugboats to a port in Mobile, Ala., with more than 4,000 people on board, some of whom have told relatives that conditions on the ship are dismal and that they have limited access to food and bathrooms.
Two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday's fire.
Debbi Smedley, a passenger on a recent Triumph cruise, said the ship had trouble on Jan. 28 as it was preparing to leave Galveston. Hours before the scheduled departure time, she received an email from Carnival stating the vessel would leave late because of a propulsion problem. Passengers were asked to arrive at the port at 2 p.m., two hours later than originally scheduled.
The ship did not sail until after 8 p.m., she said.
"My mother is a cruise travel agent so this is not my first rodeo. I have sailed many, many cruises, many, many cruise lines. This was, by far, I have to say, the worst," said Smedley, of Plano, Texas.
On its most recent journey, the Triumph lost power Sunday after a fire in the engine room. The ship floated aimlessly until Tuesday when two tugboats met it in the Gulf and began towing it to Mobile, Ala.
Carnival disputes the accounts of people on board who say the ship is filthy, saying they are doing everything to make sure passengers are comfortable.
Weather permitting, the Triumph should arrive in Mobile sometime Thursday.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen acknowledged the Triumph's recent mechanical woes, explaining that there was an electrical problem with the ship's alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2.
Testing of the repaired part was successful and "there is no evidence at this time of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on Feb. 10."
According to the email sent to passengers on Jan. 28, the issue affected the ship's cruising speeds, delaying its arrival in Galveston. The email also informed Smedley and other passengers that the propulsion problem would prevent them from docking at two ports.
"Due to the limited cruising speed, our itinerary will be impacted. Depending on the progress of the repairs, we will either visit Progreso or Cozumel," stated the email, signed by Vicky Rey, vice president of guest services. "The good news is that we will remain docked overnight at either port."
Smedley said the ship was in poor condition overall. During her five-day cruise, a water line broke in the hallway ceiling near her cabin, and a separate sewer line broke outside the main dining hall, she said. Metal was protruding from handrails on the staircases, and the elevators were often not operating.
Rather than docking in Progreso for only a few hours as planned, the ship stayed in the port for two days, and cruise workers repeatedly told passengers they were waiting for parts to fix a mechanical problem, she said.
Jay Herring, a former senior officer with Carnival Cruise Lines who worked on the Triumph from 2002 to 2004, said that although the ship was not problematic when he was on it, he had been on another vessel that seemed to have problems nearly every voyage. The Holiday, which at that time was the oldest ship in Carnival's fleet, has since been sold to another company, he said.
"It seemed like it had problems every cruise or every couple of cruises," said Herring, who also authored the book "The Truth About Cruise Ships." ''So it may not be unusual to have recurring problems."
The Triumph, he said, is the size of three football fields or a skyscraper laid on its size. It takes five generators — with one on backup — to power the ship, and 80 percent of that energy is needed to simply push the massive vessel through the water, Herring said.
Each of those generators is the size of a bus, so it's unrealistic to think that the ship could have enough backup power on board to run services when the engines die, Herring added.
"It's one of their bigger ships. It's certainly on the top end of Carnival's fleet," he said of the Triumph. "There are so many moving parts and things that can go wrong."