More than 4,000 people, passengers and crew members, disembarked on Friday from a crippled cruise ship that docked at Mobile, Alabama four days after an engine fire knocked out power while sailing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Some passengers lined the decks of Carnival Triumph as she docked waving and cheering at people on shore while others chanted “Let me off, let me off!” as they waited to disembark. One homemade sign read: Sweet Home Alabama! and another: The ship's afloat, so is the sewage.
Passengers had reported sewage on the floors, poor sanitation and access to toilets, and lengthy queues for food.
After the Carnival Triumph was towed into port, Carnival Corp said it would take as long as five hours to get all the passengers off. They have already been cleared by customs officials. The Carnival Triumph is the largest ship ever to dock at Mobile.
Once off the ship passengers were taken by bus either to Galveston, Texas, which is about seven hours away, or to New Orleans, where the firm said it had booked 1,500 hotel rooms. New Orleans is two hours away.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologised again for the very poor conditions on board.
We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case, he said.
Hospitality staff will be sent on early holiday with full pay or transferred to other ships, depending on the length remaining in their contracts, senior vice-president Terry Thornton said.
Passengers described conditions on board as ”extremely terrible''. There was no electricity and few working toilets. Plastic bags had to be used to go to the toilets and food was scarce.
The stench from overflowing toilets and drainpipes made some cabins uninhabitable and many people slept in corridors, while others took bedding out into the open to escape the heat and foul smell.
Passengers will be offered a full refund and discounts on future cruises. Carnival announced on Wednesday passengers would each get an additional 500 dollars in compensation.
But the firm has disputed the accounts describing the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything they could to ensure people were comfortable.
Carnival has cancelled more than a dozen planned voyages aboard the Triumph, while acknowledging that the crippled ship had other mechanical problems in the weeks before the fire.
Spokesman Vance Gulliksen said Triumph had an earlier electrical problem with the ship's alternator but that repairs were completed by 2 February. He said there was no evidence linking the previous problem to Sunday's fire.
The US National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the fire.
Carnival Corp which operates the ship, was also the owner of Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground off the Italian coast and sank last year, killing 32 people.