Carnival Cruise officials apologized today for the crisis on the Carnival Triumph, the fire-damaged ship that has been stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 4,200 people on board, living with limited power and sanitation. The cruise line said it would get passengers home as quickly as possible when the ship is pulled ashore in the next few days.
"I need to apologize to our guests and to our families that have been affected by a very difficult situation," Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said at a news conference this evening.
Carnival said original plans to haul the crippled ship to Progreso, Mexico, have been scrapped because the ship drifted about 90 miles north in strong currents. Instead, the Triumph is being towed to Mobile, Ala., and should arrive Thursday afternoon.
Passengers on the ship have reported worsening conditions, including scarce running water, no air conditioning and long lines for food.
"Let me assure you that no one here at Carnival is happy about the conditions aboard the shop and we are obviously very sorry," Cahill said.
He said that most of the bathrooms are working, there is running water and that there has not been an abnormal number of people reporting to the infirmary.
On Thursday, the ship will be met by a medical triage center and extra security in case they need it, according to Alabama Cruise Terminal Sheila Gurganus.
The cruise line said it has been busily making arrangements for the ship's passengers when they reach the shore.
More than 1,500 hotel rooms have been reserved in Mobile and New Orleans and more than 20 chartered flights have been booked to fly passengers back to Houston on Friday after they have had a chance to rest, Cahill said. For those wishing to get home sooner, the company is organizing charter buses to Houston and Galveston.
"Every decision we've made since Sunday morning is to ensure the safety of our guests and to get them home as quickly as possible," Cahill said.
For the ship's passengers, Thursday can't come soon enough.
"Conditions are getting worse by the hour," passenger Debra Rightmire told ABC News in a text message. "Cabin carpets are wet with urine and water. Toilets are overflowing inside cabins. We are having to sleep in the hallways. Onion and cucumber sandwich last night," she said.
Passenger Shelly Crosby told ABC News in a text message that many people are sleeping in tents set up on the ship's deck.
Passengers had limited access to bathrooms, food and hot coffee Monday. With lack of power, there's no refrigeration so the odors on board are apparently intense. That was one of the reasons many people are choosing to sleep on the deck.
"We stood in line for four hours to get a hamburger," Crosby texted.
Cellphone reception is just as scarce, coming only when another Carnival ship pulls alongside to drop off supplies.
Carnival acknowledges the problems, but said there's plenty of food and water aboard and that it is working on the sanitation issue.
"All of our guests are safe, and we're doing everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible," Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, said in a statement Monday night.
The ship, which is 2.5 football fields long and bigger than the Titanic, will then be towed back to shore at the rate of a few miles per hour.
The Carnival Triumph is now little more than a 100,000-ton cork, bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico without propulsion since the fire broke out Sunday morning. No one was hurt in the fire, but the ship lost power and is relying on a back-up generator.
Brent Nutt said that his wife, Bethany, who is on board, called him to say the plumbing wasn't working on the ship.
"She said there's no running water. They just really got food there to them tonight, and there's no power whatsoever, other than the emergency flasher lights that are on," he said Monday. "She was crying and hysterical."
At one point Sunday, passengers were reportedly using buckets to relieve themselves.
Sunday's fire was extinguished by an automated system, but not before it hobbled the ship, according to the Coast Guard.
The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston Thursday with 3,143 guests and 1,086 crew on board for a Mexican cruise, which was due to return to the port Monday.