MOBILE, Ala. - Conditions on a disabled U.S. cruise ship were "extremely terrible" as it finally approached within sight of land on Thursday, one passenger said — and more complaints were expected to flood in as the more than 4,000 people aboard came within mobile phone range. A Carnival Cruise Lines official warned of a "very long day."
Passengers have told so far of limited access to food and bathrooms, a strong stench and fecal matter on the floors. Many were sleeping on the deck for fresh air. But it was getting colder as the ship headed north.
The Carnival Triumph, which had drifted for days after a fire in the engine room, was being guided to an Alabama port after its original plan to go to Mexico failed.
A Carnival spokesman said the towing of the ship was taking longer than anticipated. Vance Gulliksen said the ship was expected to arrive between 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday (0100 and 0400 GMT). It had been expected Thursday afternoon.
Speaking by phone to NBC on Thursday morning, passenger Janie Baker called conditions "extremely terrible," with no electricity and few working toilets.
She described having to use plastic bags to go to the bathroom and wait in line for hours to get food. She once saw a woman pass out line.
"It's just a nightmare," she said.
Baker said she and her friends slept with their life vests one night because the ship was listing and they feared it would tip over.
Carnival has apologized and said it would cover transportation costs to cities in Texas, where the cruise began. The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.
But Vivian Tilley, whose sister, Renee Shanar, is on the ship, said Shanar told her the cabins were hot and smelled like smoke from the engine fire, forcing passengers to stay on the deck. She also said people were getting sick.
Carnival has cancelled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the cause.
"We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances," Carnival President and CEO Gary Cahill said. "We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure."
Communication with passengers has been limited to brief periods when other cruise ships with working cellular towers have rendezvoused to deliver supplies.
Robert Giordano said he last spoke to his wife, Shannon, on Monday. She told him she waited in line for three hours to get a hot dog and that conditions on the ship were terrible.
"They're having to urinate in the shower. They've been passed out plastic bags to go to the bathroom," Giordano said. "There was fecal matter all over the floor."
Passengers are supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.
Once docked, the ship will be idle through April.
Associated Press writers Jay Reeves, Ramit Plushnik-Masti and Bob Johnson contributed to this report.