MOBILE, Ala. — Thousands of passengers stranded for nearly a week aboard a Carnival cruise ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico made their way home from Mobile on Friday as authorities began investigating the fire that started the debacle.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, in Washington called for a thorough investigation of the incident.
For the 3,141 passengers who had been stuck aboard the crippled 900-foot-long cruise ship — rather ironically named Triumph — the main concern Friday was getting home. The ship, which had sailed out of Galveston, Texas, was towed into port here Thursday night, its arrival greeted with cheers from scores of onlookers, mostly relatives of passengers who had been trapped aboard the ship.
Carnival gave the passengers several options Thursday night for getting home: catch a ride with family and friends and stay overnight for free in Mobile, take chartered buses back to Galveston or to New Orleans, where Carnival booked hotels and charter flights.
Buses began arriving in Galveston on Friday morning, where passengers retrieved cars and headed home, a Carnival spokesman said. But even this part of the journey ran into a snag: One bus headed to New Orleans broke down. Passengers were transferred to another bus and continued their journey.
About 2,300 passengers were expected at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport sometime Friday. Seven charter planes had arrived Friday morning from New Orleans, and four more were expected later in the day, said Lance Lyttle, Houston Airport System chief operating officer.
Three passengers had to be removed from the Carnival Triumph due to medical problems: a woman taken for dialysis treatment Monday, another individual removed Thursday and treated in Mobile for an unspecified condition, and a woman wheeled out of the ship on a stretcher when it arrived who was treated for a foot injury, according to a Carnival spokesman.
Those passengers may have a legal claim against the cruise line, but others will have a hard time making a case, legal experts said.
Carnival has already offered Triumph passengers a refund, cruise credit and $500. Most cruise tickets contain fine print that absolves the company of liability beyond a refund, boilerplate disclaimers upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and lawyers are often loath to take the cases because of the odds, said Robert Jarvis, a professor of maritime law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“People talk about suing as they get off the boat. Many drop off because they just want to put the incident behind them, or they’re satisfied with the offers the cruise line makes,” Jarvis said.
The investigation of the fire that left the ship without power is in its early stages. It involves the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation and Safety Board, and is being led officials from the Bahamas, where the ship is based. The Triumph was towed to a nearby shipyard for inspection.
“We have our investigators on scene, on the ship now doing interviews with the crew members and everyone involved, but we haven’t received a report back yet,” said Coast Guard Chief Robert Cooper, who is based in Mobile.
Cooper told the Los Angeles Times that it was not clear how long the investigation will take, but that, “a lot of its going to be based on this first day’s report, how much of an inspection they can actually do, what the damage is.”