One tugboat has arrived, and another was en route Tuesday to help 4,400 people on a Carnival Cruise ship stranded off the coast of Mexico after an onboard fire Monday.
Once both tugs arrive to assist the Carnival Splendor, located about 200 miles south of San Diego, they will begin towing the ship to Ensenada, Mexico, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
“There were efforts to repair the propulsion system in the ship’s engines, but they failed,” Juan Tintos, tourism secretary for Baja California, said Tuesday morning. “With the plan to ferry the ship to Ensenada, there are now three tug boats on site, and the fourth is expected to arrive shortly.”
Tintos said the tug boat crews wouldn’t begin their work until the current is right, so the cruise ship wouldn’t have to travel against the current.
“They are estimating that they should be arriving in Ensenada (Wednesday) evening,” he added. Guests will be returned to California via buses, the spokesman said.
Passengers who are Southern California residents would be taken to Long Beach, while the others would be taken to the airport of their choice for travel back home. Seventy to 80 buses are being prepared to transport passengers from Ensenada to the United States, and they would cross through the Otay Mesa port of entry.
The seven-day Mexican cruise began Sunday in Long Beach but was cut short Monday for the 3,299 passengers when a fire broke out about 6 a.m. in the aft engine room of the vessel, prompting the cruise line to terminate the ship’s itinerary.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, said Joyce Oliva, a Carnival Cruise Lines spokeswoman.
The fire was extinguished by the ship’s C02 system, Metcalf said. The system provides a blanket of heavy gas that absorbs heat from fire and reduces the oxygen content in the atmosphere to the point where combustion becomes impossible.
This tells how dangerous the fire was. From my experience, the carbon dioxide system is used only when the fire is out of control or when an explosion is imminent.
There were no injuries to passengers or the 1,167 crew members.
Three U.S. Coast Guard cutters, a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft and a 965-foot container vessel that was in the area initially responded to the distressed cruise ship. Also assisting was a Mexican Navy 140-foot patrol boat and aircraft. One of the cutters has since returned to San Diego, as has the plane, according to the Coast Guard.
The container ship that responded to the emergency is the “Dresden Express”.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf said no one boarded the ship because there was no pending danger.
At the Coast Guard’s request, the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan was diverted from training maneuvers to take a position south of the Carnival ship to help deliver needed supplies, the Navy said.
The Navy was flying 35 pallets of supplies from North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado to the Reagan Tuesday morning. Once aboard the carrier, a helicopter was to take the supplies to the cruise ship.
Carnival is buying the food to be taken to the ship, said Cmdr. Greg Hicks of the Navy’s Third Fleet in San Diego. Two Navy planes carrying bread, other basic food items and utensils went out early Tuesday. The next loads to go out will include frozen milk.
The engineers on the Carnival Splendor worked all day Monday to restore power to the ship but were unsuccessful, Oliva said.
Emergency generators provided lights, but the ship does not have working air conditioning, hot food service or telephones. For a time on Monday, the toilets couldn’t be flushed, but by the evening the ship’s engineers restored toilet service to all cabins and public bathrooms, as well as cold running water. The ship’s crew was continuing to try to restore other services.
Bottled water and cold food were being provided. Ordinarily, Internet service would be available but that is not operating as well, said Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz.
When the fire broke out, passengers were asked to move from their cabins to the ship’s upper open decks, Oliva said. They were later allowed to return to their cabins.
The cruise’s itinerary was to make stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. The ship began operating in July 2008.
The passengers will receive a full refund, reimbursement for transportation costs and a free future cruise, said Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines.
“We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests and we sincerely thank them for their patience. Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring,” Cahill said in a statement. “The safety of our passengers and crew is our top priority and we are working to get our guests home as quickly as possible.”