These are the horrendous pictures emerging today of the putrid conditions on board the Carnival cruise ship as beleaguered passengers remain at sea after five days of overflowing sewage, unbearable stenches and makeshift beds in hallways.
The ship has began to slowly inch towards shore again after drifting off course because of a broken line to a tugboat pulling it into port, the coast guard said. It has now been fixed.
Carnival reassured guests and their anxious families that they would be on dry land between 10pm and midnight (ET) on Thursday in Mobile, Alabama. The company estimates it will take four or five hours for passengers to disembark.
The final stage in the Triumph’s arduous journey has been excruciatingly slow for exhausted passengers who can now see land from 39 miles out.
The massive vessel – the length of two football fields – was being guided along a narrow channel by four tugboats at the rate of 1mph.
The first dramatic pictures, taken from helicopters, of the exhausted passengers on board the crippled ship today showed them huddled together wearing bathrobes for warmth and hanging SOS signs from their balconies.
Later on Thursday, as guests managed to charge their phones and cameras from generators, their own images appeared online.
Among the grim scenes, were rows of people sleeping on mattresses, others lying on top deck shielding themselves from the sun’s glare under white sheets and bags of excrement left in hallways.
The ship is still around ten hours from docking – a further frustration for the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members who have endured five days in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire crippled the power system.
As the Triumph drifted off shore – it is currently around 39 miles out – more stomach-churning details emerged about the vacation from hell.
On the top deck, a ‘shanty town’ had sprung up with passengers sleeping on sun loungers, wrapped in bedsheets to stay warm as temperatures dropped to 46F.
Despite the fact it rained all night, passengers opted to sleep outdoors because the stench of sewage has become so unbearable on board.
Aerial shots of the boat emerged on Thursday morning after ABC’s Good Morning America chartered a plane to fly over the vessel.
One passenger Jamie Baker said she and her friends slept in their life vests one night because the ship was listing and they feared it would tip over.
Passengers reported how the four-day luxury cruise has turned into a nightmare as carpets and mattresses became soaked in raw sewage and scare food supplies left them with nothing to eat but sandwiches with condiments as fillings.
Doctor Jorge Rodriguez told CNN the Trumph was a ‘floating petri dish’ because of the combination of circumstances on board.
He said that raw sewage posed a major health risk while stagnating air could increase respiratory infections.
Rotting food also increases the risk of e. coli bacteria, salmonella and food poisoning.
Family members on shore had said that they had been disappointed by Carnival’s response and they did not really have much information as to what was going on.
One passenger Julie Morgan told CNN that the crew had been ‘phenomenal’ as they worked 24-hour shifts to deal with problems.
She added: ‘Any of our complaints are with head office.’
However once they dock, most passengers can only look forward to an hours-long bus ride on Thursday.
Kirk Hill, whose 30-year-old daughter, Kalin Christine Hill, is on the cruise, said: ‘I can’t imagine being on that ship this morning and then getting on a bus.
‘If I hit land in Mobile, you’d have a hard time getting me on a bus.’
Mr Hill is booking a flight from Amarillo, Texas, to New Orleans to meet his daughter when she gets there.
Thelbert Lanier was waiting at the Mobile port for his wife Cyndie, who texted him early on Thursday.
She wrote: ‘Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven’t work in 3 1/2 days. Happy Valentines Day!!! I love u & wish I was there. It’s 4:00 am. Can’t sleep…it’s cold & I’m starting to get sick.’
Renee Shanar, of Houston, is on board the Triumph with her husband. In a text message, she said that Carnival has told the passengers that they are delayed again ‘because of winds’.
She wrote: ‘We think they don’t want media there.’
Shanar said conditions were ‘horrible’ and there is food but bathrooms aren’t flushing.
‘People have gotten food poisoning. Old people have fallen and hurt themselves,’ she wrote in a text message.
Carnival said in a statement late on Wednesday that passengers would be helped through customs by 200 staff members at the scene.
They were also being given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston, or spending the night in a hotel in New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 rooms.
Those staying in New Orleans will be flown on Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.