'It's Disgusting': Stranded Carnival Passengers Take to Cell Phones

After Monday's fire, ship expected to dock in San Diego by Thursday night.

November 09, 2010, 7:14 AM

Nov. 10, 2010 — -- The engines may not work for the stranded Carnival cruise ship off the coast of Mexico, but cell phones finally do for the nearly 4,500 people on board.

"We're eating spoiled turkey sandwiches and warm milk and warm yogurt," said passenger Joey Noriega, who got married Saturday and watched his honeymoon come to an abrupt and unhappy end. "Everything smells like it's spoiled."

"The fruits are going bad and the stuff that's not going bad isn't ripe yet," Noriega said. "Nothing's cooked. It's all sandwich meat. It's disgusting. You're afraid to eat it 'cause it's been left out and touched by everybody else on the ship."

Noriega said that Tuesday night he cleaned out the cabin toilet so his new wife, Stacy, wouldn't have to sleep with the smell.

The spoiled food is piling up on the ship because health and safety regulations require the cruise liner to discard garbage at port.

"Unless you're outside in the fresh air, anything that's in closed doors smells just like rotten food," he said.

Gorden Gilbreath and his partner, Chris Desauniers, were treating the cruise like a floating camping trip.

"A lot of them [passengers] have been sleeping on the decks with their blankets," Gilbreath said.

Rescuers are towing the damaged vessel to San Diego -- a trip that's expected to take at least until Thursday afternoon.

"In coordinating with the cruise line and just discussing logistics," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Rick Foster told "Good Morning America" today, "I know that Carnival had initially expressed an interest in [Ensenada, Mexico], just because that was the closest, largest port they could reach. Now the plans have changed. They would like to go to San Diego. ... However, just weather and operations can always influence these outcomes."

Foster said there was still a chance the two tugboats pulling the ship at about four miles an hour could redirect to Ensenada, about 50 miles away from where the ship was originally stranded Monday, if necessary.

Early Monday morning, the ship endured a fire in the aft engine room that disabled its six diesel electric engines. Auxiliary power has been running emergency systems, and the crew managed to get the toilets and showers working again, but there is still no heat, air conditioning, telephone or hot food service. No one was injured in the fire.

But one thing the passengers do have, thanks to the U.S. Navy, is Spam, and lots of it.

Late Tuesday, the Navy executed a military-style airdrop by helicopter from the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan to the Splendor of nearly 10,000 pounds of food and supplies, including what appeared to be hundreds of cans of Spam, along with Pop Tarts, croissants, crab meat, bread, cups and other utensils.

Two Coast Guard officers are on board the ship to help ensure the passengers' health and safety.

Carnival announced late Tuesday it was canceling the Splendor's next voyage, set to begin Nov. 14 from Long Beach, Calif. The company said it would offer those guests a full refund of their cruise fare and air transportation costs, as well as a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.

USCG Was Aboard Splendor Day Before Fire

The Coast Guard had boarded the ship while it was still in port in California the day before the fire, ABC News has learned, but a Coast Guard spokeswoman declined to comment on the purpose of the visit because it was part of the investigation into the fire.

"I can't say about that specific cruise ship, but the Coast Guard regularly conducts safety and security boardings aboard all sorts of vessels," Petty Officer Pamela Manns, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, told ABC News. "It's part of how we do business."

In a Facebook posting Sunday evening, Carnival's senior cruise director, John Heald, complained that the Coast Guard was conducting tests of the ship's generators, and had shut down the elevators.

Heald also made something of a fateful post before the fire knocked out communication: "I am hoping for an incident free cruise but ... since being here I can't remember one where something or someone strange hasnt happened," Heald said. "Lets see what this cruise brings."

A Coast Guard cutter, the first government vessel to respond to the cruise's distress call, will stay with the ship until it is docked to ensure that the potentially hazardous open-water tugging operation succeeds.

"It's a difficult operation anytime tugs get underway to tow such a large ship [and] there's a lot of people onboard," Manns told ABC News Tuesday. "Certainly, this is unusual for a cruise ship and the size of the cruise ship and the passengers on board."

The Coast Guard and Carnival said they did not yet know how extensive the damage to the ship's engine was, or how it could affect future voyages.

"We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests, and we sincerely thank them for their patience," said Gerry Cahill, president and chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Lines, in a statement late Monday. "Conditions onboard the ship are very challenging, and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring."

Carnival said it would provide passengers a full refund for the current trip and would offer a complimentary future cruise "equal to the amount paid for this voyage."

The ship was on the first leg of a seven-day cruise on the Mexican Riviera. It departed from Long Beach, Calif., Sunday. It was scheduled to stop in Puerta Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, and then return to Long Beach.

Carnival is the world's biggest cruise ship operator, with lines including Holland America, Princess and Cunard.

Carolyn Brown, editor-in-chief for CruiseCritic.com, said that the passengers of the Splendor actually were lucky the engines stopped functioning so close to the coast rather than further out in open ocean, and that the situation looks to be under control.

"Let's put it this way: Nobody was injured. They're handling it," Brown told ABC News. "It's not ideal, and certainly it's not what you want to do on your vacation. But frankly, these people are going to have some stories to tell and I think they'll be good dinner party guests for decades to come."

New husband Noriega said he'd never take a Carnival cruise again.

"They tried to give us a free cruise," he said. "There's just no way I'm going to use that [offer]. I wouldn't trust them."

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