Carnival Triumph Q&A draft

20 February, 2013

Carnival Triumph Fire Q&A: Answers to Your Questions

(4 p.m. EST) -- A fire that broke out in an engine room of Carnival Triumph on February 10 left the 102,000-ton vessel crippled in Gulf of the Mexico. The ship, which was on the third day of a four-night Western Caribbean cruise from Galveston, had 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew crewmembers onboard. Here are the answers to some questions you may be asking about the event.

What's the latest on the investigation into what caused the fire?

The investigation is ongoing and will most likely take some six months to complete, according to U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield, who's leading the New Orleans-based Marine Casualty Investigation Team. Within days of the ship's return to port, however, the investigation had determined that the fire was caused by a leak in a fuel oil return line coming from the ship's number 6 engine. Experts contacted by the Associated Press further explained that when there is such a fuel oil leak, the oil sprays out in the form of mist, which can ignite when it touches a hot surface. Hatfield also noted that interviews with Triumph crewmemember indicated they had responded correctly to the fire. Morever, she said Triumph's fire suppression system had worked as designed.

How long will the ship be out of service? What repairs are necessary?

According to Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen, because the investigation into the cause of the fire and subsequent power outage is still ongoing, Carnival is not in a position to comment on the extent of the damages, where the repairs will take place or an estimated timeline for repairs. The line has, however, cancelled 14 voyages through the middle of April.

What were conditions like on the ship for passengers?

It depends on whom you ask and what kind of cabins passengers purchased. Passengers who had balcony cabins, and thus open air, widely reported better conditions than those with inside or porthole cabins. Without a working air conditioner, cabins without balconies quickly turned untenably hot. The big story, of course, was the toilets -- or the lack of working toilets. According to Carnival, more than half of its public toilets eventually had restored service, and some cabins, located at the stern of the ship, had working toilets. Still, a biohazard bag system was employed, meaning human waste was present.

Was there increased danger of infection?

Despite national headlines referring to Carnival Triumph as a "floating petri dish," CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta repeatedly told reporters the risk of contracting any type of contagious disease because of the unsanitary conditions was very small. He pointed out that after Hurricane Katrina doctors expected to see a spike in illness because conditions were so unsanitary, but the spike never occurred.

How did they get the ship and passengers back to shore?

Carnival Triumph was ultimately towed by five boats -- the tug vessel Roland Falgout and four assisting tugboats -- from off the coast of Mexico to Mobile, Alabama. The ship was originally going to be towed to Progreso, Mexico, but as it drifted 90 miles north of its original position, Mobile became the better choice due to the distance, direction and strength of currents, as well as ease of re-entry for passengers traveling without passports. The ship arrived in Mobile on February 14 at 9:15 p.m. local time. Passengers were transferred by bus either to Galveston or New Orleans, where Carnival booked hotel rooms and made flight arrangements. Crewmembers were put up in hotels in Mobile, before being reassigned to other vessels in the Carnival fleet. Two passengers were medically evacuated from the ship before it reached shore. One was transferred to Carnival Legend because she needed dialysis, and a second was medevaced to Dauphin Island because she reportedly suffered a stroke.

Why didn't they just float another ship up next to Triumph and transfer passengers over? Why tugs instead?

Such an operation would be entirely too dangerous. The logistics involved in evacuating even one passenger from a ship are intricate and time-consuming, Lily Zepeda, public-affairs officer for the U.S. Coast Guard District 8, told Time magazine. Such an evacuation requires precise timing and must overcome the unpredictable -- namely choppy waters and poor weather. Engaging the lifeboats, too, is a dangerous task reserved only for the direst of emergencies (when a ship is actually going down, for example). Passengers onboard Triumph were safe. Uncomfortable, but safe. Trying to offload passengers from one ship onto another in open waters isn't worth the risk. Tugs presented the safest option.

Where did the tug boats come from? Who pays for them?

Carnival paid for the tug boat service. Tugs came from both Mobile and Mexico, says Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, and possibly New Orleans. (We have not yet heard back from the Coast Guard to confirm.)

Three other Carnival ships re-supplied Triumph. Did that mean those ships were then low on supplies?

Cruise Critic reached out to Carnival the day after the fire broke out with this question. According to Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, all Carnival ships are intentionally overstocked just in case of emergency. The ships are stocked for multiple voyages, as well as for other contingencies, like being unable to return to port.

Were resupply missions necessary?

Yes. The power outage made most of the perishable food onboard Triumph inedible. Fleetmates Elation, Legend and Conquest made resupply trips to Triumph, providing hot and nonperishable food and bottled water.

Who pays for the Coast Guard resupply mission/help?

Carnival paid for the food and supplies delivered onboard. As for the Coast Guard's assistance, "the USCG would have to address the level of aid they extended but in situations such as this, traditionally, this is one of the many valuable services the U.S.C.G. provides and we greatly appreciate their assistance," says Gulliksen. Translation: U.S. taxpayer dollars that fund the Coast Guard paid for the boats and helicopters that assisted in the rescue. The Coast Guard could not be reached for confirmation.

What compensation is being offered to impacted passengers?

Passengers on the ill-fated Triumph voyage will receive full refunds, inclusive of gratuities and transportation expenses. In addition, they will receive future cruise credits equal to the amount paid for this voyage, as well as reimbursement of all shipboard purchases during the sailing, except gift shop, art and casino charges. They will also receive an additional compensation of $500 per person. Passengers booked on cancelled sailings will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as nonrefundable transportation costs, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and government taxes and fees. They also will receive a 25 percent discount on a future three- to five-day Carnival cruise or a 15 percent discount on a six- to seven-day cruise.

Are there lawsuits?

Yes. As of February 20, 2013, two individual lawsuits and a class-action lawsuit have been filed. Texas resident Cassie Terry filed the first suit less than 24 hours after Triumph made port in Mobile, Alabama. Terry charged Carnival with failing to provide a seaworthy ship and sanitary conditions. She further claimed to have suffered physical and emotional harm, including anxiety, nervousness and the loss of the enjoyment of life. A Houston woman filed the second lawsuit, February 17, 2013, claiming the "toxic" conditions onboard caused severe and permanent injuries. According to CNN, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Carnival Corp. by passengers Matt and Melissa Crusan. The Crusans alleged in their lawsuit that "Carnival knew or should have known that the vessel Triumph was likely to experience mechanical and/or engine issues because of prior similar issues," the filing said. Additionally, a Miami-based law firm has also filed a "proposed class-action lawsuit" on behalf of the passengers. We've reached out for additional information.
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