Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Passengers on stricken cruise ship varied from drunken to saintly

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MOBILE, Ala. -- As conditions deteriorated on the crippled Carnival cruise ship Triumph, some passengers panicked. They hoarded food, drank too much and argued.

But other passengers on the ship lumbering through the Gulf of Mexico banded together. They shared water, prayed together, comforted the children of strangers and greeted each other in the halls like old friends.

"What you had was a tale of two ships," said the Rev. Wendell Gill of First Baptist Church in La Porte, Texas.

The Triumph's five-day odyssey of misery ended late Thursday night when the ship docked here, guided to port by four tugboats. As the 3,141 passengers on the ill-fated Mexican cruise made their way home Friday, they described a desperate atmosphere that brought out the best and worst in people.

"People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands," said Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix.

After a fire disabled the ship's power system Sunday, the crew of 1,086 offered an open bar, Moyes said. But that was cancelled after some passengers drank too much and began cursing and fighting. Passengers said one woman, a newlywed, got into a spat and threatened to leap off the ship (she didn't).

As the ship drifted, sanitation worsened, Moyes said. Freezers stopped working, food spoiled.

Toilets failed and passengers were forced to urinate in sinks. Later, the crew directed them to use red plastic biohazard bags, which stacked up outside staterooms. Moyes saw sewage dripping down walls. Sometimes people slipped on it, she said.

"It was like a hot Porta Potti," Moyes said. And when the ship tilted, "it would spill."

Amid all the unpleasantness were acts of kindness.

When Gill and others noticed no one from Carnival seemed to be helping the elderly and sick get around, they filled in, carting mattresses and bedding up from the lower decks. Others took care of each other, sharing Tylenol with those with sick children.

A group of men celebrating a buddy's bachelor party, all Class of 2000 graduates of Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas, ran into a bachelorette party -- Winston Churchill Class of 2006 -- with nowhere to sleep. The men, like many others, erected makeshift tents on deck.

"We built them a shantytown," said Chris Atherton, 30.

Gill and his wife, Cindey, had been billeted on the first level, but left after "sewage came up through the shower drain, pooling in the sink and squishing in the carpet," she said.

He tried to combat the rumours that ran amok on board -- that someone died, broke a leg, contracted measles or was quarantined. But like many, Wendell Gill wanted more information from Carnival.

He was discouraged to see people getting drunk and disorderly the night of the open bar -- and Gill's no teetotaler. He had a beer that night, too. He later gathered a prayer group, people worried about getting sick, about kids and jobs back home. By Wednesday, they had attracted 200 people, some of whom helped fellow passengers gather bedding and deck chairs.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 A28

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