Disabled Cruise Ship Pulled Home, Slowly

The Coast Guard is working to help the Carnival Cruise Lines ship that became stranded off the coast of Baja California. A fire in the ship's engine room on Monday cut most of the power, leaving 3,300 passengers and 1,100 crew without air conditioning, hot food or telephone service.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Out in the Pacific, two tugboats are slowly pulling a Carnival Cruise ship to port in San Diego. Thousands of passengers are on board. The ship, called the Carnival Splendor, lost power early Monday morning when a fire broke out in an engine room.

Passengers are eating cold food. But luckily, bathroom service has been restored.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story.

CARRIE KAHN: The Carnival Splendor is more than a hundred miles south of San Diego and it will be at least another day before it's pulled into port, says Coast Guard Lieutenant Patrick Montgomery.

Lieutenant PATRICK MONTGOMERY (U.S. Coast Guard): It's a very long and slow process trying to tug a 952-foot cruise ship up the coast. So it's very difficult to define exactly when it'll be arriving.

KAHN: The Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau is accompanying the ship on its four-mile-an-hour trek north. The U.S. Navy has been resupplying the ship with thousands of pounds of food and other necessities by helicopter.

As the Splendor gets closer to shore, some passengers have been able to make cell phone calls out. One passenger, David Zambrano, who works at Denver's Channel 9 TV station called his employer. He said people are holding up as best as they can.

Mr. DAVID ZAMBRANO (KUSA-TV Employee): The only thing that made it real tough is when the facilities were all broken down and all the bathrooms weren't working and people were starting to get uncomfortable. But now that they've started getting those things going and the water flowing, then that made all the difference.

KAHN: He said his room has a balcony so there's natural light and fresh air. But interior cabins are dark with no air conditioning. He said this cruise is anything but normal.

(Soundbite of Carnival Cruise ad)

Unidentified Woman: So what in the world are you going to do all day?

KAHN: It's definitely not like what you see on the Carnival ads.

(Soundbite of Carnival Cruise ad)

Unidentified Woman: Go for a swim in one of the pools, check. Catch a live show on the lido deck, check.

KAHN: According to the cruise line, passengers are playing bingo, listening to acoustic music, holding trivia concerts, and there are scavenger hunts for kids. The lavish buffets are now replaced with meals of Spam, Pop-Tarts and canned crab meat.

No injuries have been reported from this fire. But in 2006, Carnival's Star Princess caught on fire after a passenger tossed a lit cigarette onto a balcony. One person died and 11 others were injured. Advocates fought and got tougher health and safety regulations for cruise ships last summer.

That's little comfort for Georgette Alvarez, whose sister Vicky is on Carnival Splendor.

Ms. GEORGETTE ALVAREZ: I'm really worried about her.

KAHN: She hasn't heard from Vicky yet. And Alvarez says her sister and brother-in-law saved for months to take their first vacation ever.

Ms. ALVAREZ: They both scrimped and did side jobs and put a down payment, and just paid, you know, every time she could. And they paid for it and she was ecstatic.

KAHN: Vicky left her a message right before the ship set sail Sunday. She told her sister that she had received a free bottle of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries and was no longer nervous about taking the cruise. Carnival says it will give refunds to all passengers and offer another cruise free of charge.

Georgette Alvarez says she doubts her sister will take them up on the offer.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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