Reeking of raw sewage, a crippled cruise ship carrying more than 4,200 people docked at a port in Mobile, Alabama, on Thursday as passengers waved towels and flashlights to greet the end of a voyage some described as hellish.
Tugboats pulled the Carnival Triumph into port in a drama that played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, with 32 people killed.
Passengers lined the decks and cheered as the ship reached the dock.
Over the last four days, passengers described an overpowering stench on parts of the ship after an engine room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.
After the mishap, toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.
"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.
Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.
"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.
Terry Thornton, a Carnival Cruise Lines senior vice president, told reporters in Mobile that additional provisions were laid in on Wednesday and the ship was now "in excellent shape."
Passenger Donna Gutzman said those aboard the ship were treated to steak and lobster for lunch on Thursday afternoon.
"Our basic needs are being met. For the most part, they are making us happy," Gutzman told CNN.
A senior Carnival official said it could take up to five hours to remove all the passengers from the ship, which has only one functioning elevator.
Carnival said it would greet the passengers with warm food, blankets and cell phones.
Once off the ship, many passengers still had a lengthy journey ahead. More than 100 buses were lined up waiting to drive some passengers the 490 miles back to Galveston, Texas, while other passengers had elected to stay overnight in hotels in Mobile before flying home, Carnival said.
Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.
A Coast Guard cutter escorted the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 pounds of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph when they contacted relatives and media before their cell phone batteries died. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.
Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.
'VERY CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES'