Fire strands nearly 4,500 on cruise ship

SAN DIEGO — Navy helicopters shuttled in supplies Tuesday to 4,500 passengers and crew members expected to remain stranded on a disabled cruise ship off the coast of Mexico at least through Wednesday night.

SAN DIEGO — Navy helicopters shuttled in supplies Tuesday to 4,500 passengers and crew members expected to remain stranded on a disabled cruise ship off the coast of Mexico at least through Wednesday night.

Mexican seagoing tugboats were expected to reach the Carnival Splendor on Tuesday afternoon to begin the slow process of towing it to the Mexican port of Ensanada. Passengers will be bused back to California from there.

The ship, which left from Long Beach on Sunday, was 200 miles (320 kilometres) south of San Diego when an engine room fire cut its power early Monday, according to a statement from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines. It began drifting off the coast of northern Baja California.

Monty Mathisen, of the New York-based trade publication Cruise Industries, called the fire a freak accident.

“This stuff does not happen, I mean once in a blue moon,” he said. “The ships have to be safe, if not the market will collapse.”

The last major accident on a cruise ship was when one sank in a Greek harbour in 2007 after hitting rocks. No one was hurt.

The 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members aboard the Splendor were not hurt either and the fire was put out, but the 952-foot (290-meter) Mexican Riveria-bound ship had no air conditioning, hot water or telephone service. It was also out of mobile phone range, preventing families from communicating with their loved ones.

After the fire, passengers were first asked to move from their cabins to the ship’s upper deck, but eventually allowed to go back to their rooms.

Bottled water and cold food were provided, and the ship’s auxiliary power allowed for toilets and cold running water.

On Tuesday, U.S. sailors loaded cargo planes with boxes of crab meat, croissants and other items for the stranded passengers. They were to be ferried to an aircraft carrier at sea, where helicopters will pick them up and drop them on the ship.

The tugboats were expected to arrive back at the port with the ship around 8 p.m. local time (0300 GMT) Wednesday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf said. Metcalf said the tugs, which will be escorted by a Coast Guard cutter, must move slowly because the ship is so big.

From Ensenada, passengers will be driven 50 miles (80 kilometres) by bus to the California border, said Joyce Oliva, a Carnival spokeswoman, who added that she was unaware of any safety concerns from passengers or their families about travelling by land in Mexico.

Ensenada Port Capt. Carlos Carrillo said some bus companies that normally work with cruise ships docked in Ensenada already take passengers to the border.

“I don’t think it will be much trouble to get the passengers to the border,” he said.

Carnival Corp.’s stock was down about 1 per cent Tuesday.

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