MOBILE, Ala. — As conditions deteriorated on the crippled Carnival cruise ship Triumph, some passengers panicked. They hoarded food, drank too much and argued.
But other passengers on the ship lumbering through the Gulf of Mexico banded together. They shared water, prayed together, comforted the children of strangers and greeted each other in the halls like old friends.
“What you had was a tale of two ships,” said the Rev. Wendell Gill, of First Baptist Church in La Porte, Texas.
The Triumph’s voyage of misery ended late Thursday when the ship docked in Mobile, guided to port by four tugboats. As the 3,141 passengers on the ill-fated Mexican cruise made their way home Friday, they described a desperate atmosphere that brought out the best and worst in people.
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“People were hoarding food; boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands,” said Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix.
After a fire disabled the ship’s power system Sunday, the crew of 1,086 offered an open bar, Moyes said. But that was canceled after some passengers drank too much and began cursing and fighting. Passengers said one woman, a newlywed, got into a spat and threatened to leap off the ship (she didn’t).
As the ship drifted, sanitation worsened, Moyes said. Freezers stopped working, food spoiled. Toilets failed and passengers were forced to urinate in sinks. Later, the crew directed them to use red plastic biohazard bags, which stacked up outside staterooms. Moyes saw sewage dripping down walls. Sometimes people slipped on it, she said.
When the ship tilted, “it would spill.”
Amid all the unpleasantness were acts of kindness. When Gill and others noticed no one from Carnival seemed to be helping the elderly and sick get around, they filled in, carting mattresses and bedding up from the lower decks. Others took care of each other, sharing Tylenol with those who had sick kids.
A group of men celebrating a buddy’s bachelor party, all Class of 2000 graduates of Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, ran into a bachelorette party — Winston Churchill Class of 2006 — with nowhere to sleep. The men, like many others, erected makeshift tents on deck. “We built them a shantytown,” said Chris Atherton, 30.
Gill and his wife, Cindey, had been billeted on the first level, but left after “sewage came up through the shower drain, pooling in the sink and squishing in the carpet,” she said.
Wendell Gill was discouraged to see people getting drunk and disorderly the night of the open bar — and he’s no teetotaler. He later gathered a prayer group, people worried about getting sick, or worried about kids or jobs back home. By Wednesday, they had attracted 200 people, some of whom helped fellow passengers gather bedding and deck chairs.
“In an adverse situation, most people will rise to help; that’s just the human spirit,” he said. “It was the people on the boat that saved Carnival.”
Atherton said it seemed Carnival crew had no emergency plans to aid passengers once they were stranded.
A lawsuit was filed Friday by Cassie Terry, 25, of Lake Jackson, Texas. She is suing Carnival for breach of maritime contract, negligence and fraud as a result of the “unseaworthy, unsafe, unsanitary, and generally despicable conditions” on the ship.
Some passengers said the crew handled the crisis well, and they were willing to cruise again. “You fall off a bicycle, you don’t never ride again?” said Mike Westwood, a retired Air Force officer from San Antonio.