MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A Coast Guard official said Monday that the cause of the engine-room fire on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was a leak in a fuel oil return line.
Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield gave the description in a conference call with reporters and estimated that the investigation of the disabled ship would take six months.
Hatfield said the Bahamas —where the ship is registered, or flagged — is leading the investigation, with the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board leading U.S. interests in the probe.
She said investigators have been with the ship since it arrived Thursday in Mobile. Since then, she said, interviews have been conducted with passengers and crew and forensic analysis has been performed on the ship.
She said the crew responded appropriately to the fire. “They did a very good job,” she said.
In an email after Monday’s conference call, Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz described the oil return line that leaked as stretching from the ship’s No. 6 engine to the fuel tank.
The Triumph left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7 for a four-day trip to Mexico. The fire paralyzed the ship early Feb. 10, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico until tugboats towed it to Mobile. Passengers described harsh conditions on board: overflowing toilets, long lines for food, foul odors and tent cities for sleeping on deck.
Hatfield said investigators from the Coast Guard and NTSB would stay with the ship until about the end of the week, then continue work at their respective offices. She said the investigation will look further at the cause of the fire and the crew’s response, as well as why the ship was disabled so long.
MIAMI (AP) — A byzantine maze of maritime rules and regulations, fragmented oversight and a patchwork quilt of nations that do business with cruise lines make it tough for consumers to assess the health and safety record of the ship they’re about to board in what for many is the vacation of a lifetime.
Want to know about a ship’s track record for being clean? Want to assess how sanitary the food is? It’s not that easy to find, in part because there’s no one entity or country that oversees or regulates the industry with its fleet of ships that are like mini cities floating at sea.
In the case of Carnival Cruise Lines, the owner of the Carnival Triumph that spent days in the Gulf of Mexico disabled after an engine fire, the company is incorporated in Panama, its offices are based in Miami and its ships fly under the Bahamian flag — a matrix that is not unusual in the cruise line industry.
For potential passengers seeking ship information, there’s no central database that can be viewed to determine a track record of safety or health inspections. No one agency regulates everything from the cruise line’s mechanical worthiness to the sanitation of its kitchens.
The U.S. Coast Guard inspects each cruise ship that docks in the U.S. every year for a range of issues, from operation of backup generators to the lifeboats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a database of recent disease outbreaks and other health inspection information for cruise ships. Had Triumph vacationers looked up information about the cruise ship through those two agencies before boarding, they would have found mostly clean marks and few red flags.
And when something goes wrong, as it did on Triumph, there are limits to how much the Coast Guard can investigate.
These are not new issues — they had been raised by members of Congress before the Triumph incident.
“This horrible situation involving the Carnival Triumph is just the latest example in a long string of serious and troubling incidents involving cruise ships,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, d-w.va., who led a committee hearing on cruise safety last year.
Last year, after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Giglio, Italy, Rockefeller held a Commerce Committee hearing to examine deficiencies in the cruise line industry’s compliance with federal safety, security, and environmental standards and review industry regulations.
“As I remarked then, they seem to have two lives: One is at port, where the Coast Guard can monitor their operations; the other is at sea where, it appears once they are beyond three nautical miles from shore, the world is theirs,” Rockefeller said in letter he wrote this week to Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., the commandant of the Coast Guard. “The Carnival Triumph incident only serves to further validate this view.”
The Triumph left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7 for a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. An engine-room fire paralyzed the ship early Sunday, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Passengers described nightmarish conditions on board: overflowing toilets, long lines for a short supply of food, foul odors, and tent cities where vacationers slept on deck. Tugboats slowly towed the 14-story vessel to Mobile, Ala. It arrived there late Thursday.
As three tugboats fought wind and thunderstorms on Thursday morning to pull the stranded Carnival Cruise Line ship Triumph slowly toward port in Mobile, Ala., the only passenger to have gotten off was recovering in Austin, Tex., anxious about the fate of her 29 family members still on a ship that has been largely without power since Sunday. The Triumph is expected to arrive in Mobile late Thursday afternoon.
“It was scary, I tell you,” said the passenger, Rachel Alderete, 54. “It was horrible. I still have butterflies in my stomach.”
A fire on Sunday took out the ship’s propulsion system, leaving the Triumph unable to sail and without power or sewage, heating and air-conditioning systems. The ship had left Galveston on Thursday with 3,142 passengers and 1,086 crew members for what was supposed to be a four-day cruise to the Caribbean.
Instead, the 14-story, 900-foot ship was floating helplessly in the Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula until tugs could reach it.
By Monday, it was clear that Ms. Alderete was in trouble. With a history of kidney disease, she needed dialysis. The rescue came in the early hours Tuesday morning when she walked through an open door in the lower portion of the ship and eased herself down a rope ladder, stepping into a Coast Guard skiff that was bobbing in choppy water. Her sister was supposed to accompany her, but the seas were too rough, Ms. Alderete said.
She was taken to a clinic in Cozumel, Mexico, for emergency dialysis and flew home on Wednesday.
Ms. Alderete was one of 30 members of her extended family celebrating the 60th birthday of the matriarch, Mercedes Colon.
Andres Colon, the 27-year-old son of Mercedes, who stayed home with his 18-month-old baby so his wife, Brenda, could go on the trip, was keeping up with family until all communication was cut. One of the last things he heard was from a cousin, whose pregnant wife was on board.
“He waited for about three hours just to get her half a hamburger,” he said.
Mr. Colon’s mother had wanted to have a big party for her 60th birthday, he said.
He has not heard from the family since Ms. Alderete came home on Wednesday.
She said her remaining family members were sleeping together in a hallway near a customer service office trying to get enough food to feed the group and using red plastic bags set into garbage cans as restrooms. They were setting the waste in the halls.
The crew was doing their best to clean up passengers’ waste and to keep clean the few toilets that were working. People had taken to urinating in showers, Ms. Alderete said.