HOUSTON — A second tug boat reached a disabled cruise ship that had been drifting without power in the Gulf of Mexico since a weekend fire and was helping tow it Tuesday toward an Alabama port, the Coast Guard said.
There were no reported injuries caused by Sunday's engine room fire aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Carnival Triumph, which knocked out power and crippled the ocean liner's water and plumbing systems.
The ship was about 150 miles off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula when the fire occurred, but after currents pushed it northward, a decision was made to tow it to Mobile, Ala., instead of Progreso, Mexico, in order to make it easier for passengers without passports to return home.
On Tuesday morning, the vessel was about 270 miles south of Mobile, and weather permitting, the ship should reach the city by Thursday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm said.
The ship left Galveston, Texas, last Thursday on a scheduled four-day cruise with 3,143 passengers and a crew of 1,086.
Besides the two tugs, at least two other Carnival cruise ships have been diverted to the Triumph to leave supplies and a 210-foot Coast Guard cutter was at the scene, Brahm said.
"If they do need any help, we're there," he said. "But that's kind of it, to make sure everything is OK."
Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva said Tuesday that a passenger with a pre-existing medical condition was transferred to one of those ships, the Carnival Legend, "as a precautionary measure."
Carnival hasn't determined what caused the fire or how it caused the electrical problems that have crippled the ship's water and plumbing systems, Oliva said.
"We're going to have to send this question around and see what we can find out," she said.
Passengers have limited access to bathrooms, food and hot coffee, but some described miserable conditions aboard the ship.
Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement Monday that the Carnival Triumph had drifted so far north of its original position that it made more sense to tow it to Mobile, allowing for less complicated re-entry for passengers without passports.
The fire in the aft engine room knocked out the ship's propulsion system. The ship has been operating on backup generator power since the incident, the statement said.
When another Carnival cruise ship, the Legend, rendezvoused with the stranded vessel Monday, Texas resident Brent Nutt was able to briefly chat with his wife, Bethany, who could draw a cellphone signal from the visiting cruise line.
Without power, the ship's stabilizers are apparently not working, Nutt told The Associated Press, and the massive liner had been leaning to one side Sunday. By Monday afternoon, the ship seemed more upright, he said.
"She sounded a whole lot better today than she did yesterday," Nutt said about two hours after chatting with his 32-year-old wife.
Oliva said the "very slightly" 4.5-degree list was caused by the 25-knot winds from the south-southeast, a condition not unexpected "given the wind speed and posed no safety risk."
It wasn't immediately certain if the list had been corrected with the ship under tow.
Nutt said his wife told him passengers were also given food and some of the bathrooms are working. But the ship is dirty, he said his wife told him.
"There's water and feces all over the floor," Nutt relayed. "It's not the best conditions. You would think Carnival would have something in place to get these people off the ship."
Passengers also are getting sick and throwing up, he said, adding that his wife told him: "The whole boat stinks extremely bad."
A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That vessel was also stranded for three days with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.
Carnival said in a statement that it had cancelled the Triumph's next two voyages scheduled to depart Monday and Saturday. Passengers aboard the stranded ship will also receive a full refund, the statement said.