This may be old news, but we are bringing it up again to emphasize the importance of functional plumbing. Especially on cruiseships. Warning: This story is pretty unpleasant with some nasty details about certain bodily functions. Do not read if you are offended by such things.
A night nobody wants to remember
You may remember the Carnival cruise ship fiasco earlier this year in February, when 4,200 passengers were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico and endured terribly unsanitary conditions. Because of non-functional plumbing, passengers of the Triumph were forced to relieve themselves in showers, sinks and little red bags provided by the cruiseline. The smell on board was unsurprisingly described as “rank” due to the lack of places to put the waste. Slick floors and walls were usually “human wasted overflows,” according to passenger Joy Dyer, who had to sleep above deck to escape the disgusting odor and conditions of the rooms below. Many people gathered in tents on deck for that very reason, except the disabled or elderly who couldn’t climb; the elevators were out of order, so they were stuck in the mess.
The lack of plumbing also created a storm for easy spread of infectious disease. Cruiseships already have a somewhat infamous reputation for viral epidemics, particularly of norovirus which causes about 90% of gastroenteritis (stomach “flu”). Passengers were easily spreading illness because sewage was everywhere – on the floors, in the waste bags sitting around, and in the undercooked food.
Top that all with the fact that many people were unable to shower and were living in unbearable heat, and you ultimately get an aroma of feces, urine, vomit, sweat and body odor.
The only food available to Triumph passengers was cold, raw and uncooked. The signature dish during the debacle was the onion and cucumber sandwich (yum). Although we are not sure how anyone could possibly have an appetite under those conditions, apparently people on the ship were fighting over the food and had to wait in line for sometimes up to four hours to get a sandwich.
This nightmare was endured by passengers for about 4 days. Tugboats began to tow the ship to shore Monday night, but at a rate of a few miles per hour, the ship did not reach the shore of Mobile, Alabama until Thursday, February 14th. Luckily, sister ships were able to drop off food and supplies in the meantime and some power was restored to the ship on Monday, though not enough to get it moving again. When the ship returned, passengers cheered and kissed the ground after exiting the ship.
So, what happened?
A surprise fire in the engine room took down all of the ship’s engines and power system. Some passengers could see and smell the smoke, and at one point the boat actually lifted and leaned to the right. Although the fire was contained by Carnival staff, and they alerted passengers on the PA that everything was fine. But when the fire got to the engine, it cut out the ship’s power leaving its plumbing disabled in nearly every area of the ship.
Before people knew what had happened, they were still using the restrooms and waste began to build up – in both private and public facilities. The crew notified passengers that they should use sinks or showers to urinate, and use little red biohazard bags for “number 2”.
But the incident is apparently an anomoly and not indicative of the average cruising experience (we hope not). According to cruise industry expert Jay Herring, “These incidents are very rare – maybe once a year, once every couple of years. You’re more likely to be hurt driving to the cruise ship terminal than are you actually being on a cruise.” Carolyn Spencer Brown, another industry expert, added: “Engine room fires happen, but 99% of the time passengers aren’t affected.”
Herring rated the seriousness of the Triumph situation a 5/6 out of 10. He compared it with the Costa incident in 2012, when 13 passengers were killed in an accident in Italy, and rightfully rated the seriousness of that disaster a 10/10.
Carnival undergoing an operational makeover
Carnival Corp has been apologetic regarding the incident and issued full refunds to every passenger on the Triumph (including food and casino charges), free admission for a future cruise, and and an extra $500 for the inconvenience.
They have also begun to undergo some much-needed changes to improve their ships’ power and safety operations. Such changes include full effective safety systems, equipment and training, and regular inspections from the United States Coast Guard and other authorities. “The changes we are implementing are focused primarily on improvements to better support continued power and hotel services should unexpected issues arise,” said CEO Gerry Cahill.
For anyone who has become nervous about cruising, look for ships designed after 2010. They must have two engine rooms.