SAN DIEGO (AP) Six tug boats pulled a stricken cruise ship into San Diego Bay early Thursday, bringing the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew closer to freedom after three days of limited food, smelly toilets and dark cabins.
Escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor reached the harbor mouth shortly before 7:30 a.m., Coast Guard Petty Officer Rachel Polish said. It’s expected to take another two hours to dock and several more before the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew disembark.
Docking will be a tricky operation because the vessel has no propulsion and can’t steer, Polish said.
“It has to come in at a certain angle,” she said. “You can’t just pull it in as you would at a parking spot.”
Just about anything that requires electrical power was knocked out by a Monday morning fire in an engine room. There was no air conditioning, no hot food, no hot water, no casino. The swimming pool was off-limits because there was no way to pump chlorine.
“Every day is getting more frustrating for some people. You can tell some people are just angry,” passenger Kate Kapelka told CBS’s “Early Show” on Thursday morning.
Lines for cold food stretch for hours. Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew, passengers said.
“We’re eating spoiled turkey sandwiches and warm milk and warm yogurt,” passenger Joey Noriega told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday. “Everything smells like it’s spoiled… Nothing’s cooked. It’s all sandwich meat. It’s disgusting. You’re afraid to eat it ’cause it’s been left out and touched by everybody else on the ship.”
The bathrooms are dark and toilets no longer flush, passenger Valerie Ojeda told “Good Morning America.”
“It was bad, but now that I think back to it, it was really bad,” she said
Still, she said people were trying to make the best of the trip, dancing, laughing and singing along to “Sweet Caroline.” The bar was open and offering free drinks, and there were musical bands and children’s games.
Debbie Blocker said passengers helped each other up stairs and brought food to those who could not wait in line.
“It’s like a big family on the sea,” she told “Good Day L.A.” on Fox 11 News in Los Angeles.
Crew members with flashlights even cleaned rooms in the dark, Blocker said.
Ship bars offered free drinks and as the ship approached shore, spirits rose.
“Last night, everybody was partying,” Blocker said.
Cruise Director John Heald said in comments posted in a blog on Carnival Lines website that the people aboard “have risen to the obvious challenges and difficult conditions onboard.”
“Obviously it has been a challenge but let me tell you the most important facts and those are that the ship is safe, the guests are safe and that nobody was injured,” he said.
The Splendor left Long Beach on Sunday for a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera. The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles off shore when the fire killed its power.
Gerry Cahill, chief executive of Carnival Corp.’s Carnival Cruise Lines, said the crankcase on one of six diesel generators “split,” causing the fire. He said he doubted other ships in the Miami-based company’s fleet were at risk.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen before, so I really don’t think we have any risks to other ships,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “This is a very unusual situation.”
The engine room fire created a jolt like an earthquake and smoke poured from the room, Blocker recalled.
Carnival first planned to haul the ship to the Mexican port of Ensenada, not far from a movie studio complex used to film “Titanic,” and bus passengers to the U.S.
But the cruise line decided it would be better to go a little further to San Diego, sparing passengers the 50-mile bus ride to the border. San Diego also offers more transportation and hotel options.
In his comments Heald defended the ship and crew.
There will be those who will say this has been “‘the cruise from hell,'” he wrote. But he continued that there are “many more who will tell you what they have been telling me and the crew and that is that Carnival as a company have done everything they can and continue to do so.”