MOBILE, Ala. -- A cruise ship disabled for five nightmarish days in the Gulf limped under tow into port with more than 4,000 people aboard late Thursday, passengers raucously cheering the end to an ocean odyssey they say was marked by overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odours.
"Sweet Home Alabama!" read one of the homemade signs passengers affixed alongside the 14-storey ship as many raucously cheered at deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship Triumph. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times on its final docking approach as some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.
"Hello, Mobile!" someone aboard shouted amid the cheering. Some danced in celebration on one of the balconies. "Happy V-Day" read one of the homemade signs made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."
A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck of the terminal were waving lights at the ship as it was carefully making its way alongside. Those about were screaming, whistling and taking pictures.
Hundreds gawked from dockside at the arrival at the Alabama cruise terminal in Mobile, the state's only seaport, as the Triumph inched into port about 9:15 p.m. It took six gruelling hours navigating the 50-kilometre-odd-mile ship channel to dock, guided by at least four towboats. Nearly 275 metres in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.
And even once it is stable, it will take four to five hours for all the 3,000 passengers to be off, said Carnival senior vice-president of marketing Terry Thornton.
Passengers on board in texts and flitting cellphone calls described miserable conditions while at sea, many anxious to walk on solid ground.
They have the option of a seven-hour bus ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans. Some also can stay in Mobile.
"I can't imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus," said Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise. "If I hit land in Mobile, you'd have a hard time getting me on a bus."
Buses are standing by to take them to their next stop and Galveston is the home port of the ill-fated ship, which lost power in an engine-room fire Sunday some 240 kilometres off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference.
"I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. And I'd like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were every poor," he said.
-- The Associated Press