“Weary and miserable, sickened by the stench of sewage,” the last of more than 4,200 passengers and crew hobbled off the Carnival “Triumph” Friday, “after tugboats lugged it to the Alabama shore and finally brought an end to a five-day floating nightmare,” “the agony prolonged by a snapped cable connecting the ship to one of four tugboats,” NBC News reported early today.(1) “In the sweltering heat, passengers set up tent cities on outdoor decks, hoping to catch a breeze or simply unwilling to endure the stench emanating from inside.” Other reports tell of tempers flying, overflowing toilets, “squishy carpets,” long lines for food, sickened passengers, children “hysterically crying” and “sewage running down the walls and floors.”(2) “The ship’s afloat, so is the sewage,” said a passenger.
The horrific five-day ordeal that began Sunday when a fire erupted on the 13-year-old Carnival “Triumph” cruise ship that knocked out power, leaving it adrift in the Gulf “without propulsion, with little running water, less electricity, and utterly bereft of sanitation.”(3) Passengers alternately endured 90-degree heat and cold rainstorms, many forced out of their cabins as the inoperable toilets and broken air-conditioning systems made the stench and running sewage unbearable.
Under conditions described as “vile,” “filthy,” and “horrible,” one passenger texted, “Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven’t work in 3 1/2 days…”It’s 4:00 am. Can’t sleep…it’s cold & I’m starting to get sick.” Another passenger, Renee Shaner, told the AP, “People have gotten food poisoning. Old people have fallen and hurt themselves.” Another passenger reported “terrible” conditions, standing in line three hours just to get a hot dog, being forced to urinate in the shower, and using plastic bags to go to the bathroom.(4)
Yet as the crises worsened, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill merely called conditions on the ship “challenging.”(5) Appearing under-informed, perhaps he needed a thesaurus to adequately describe the catastrophe on-board. Days later, he more profusely apologized.
“The problems of the “Triumph” fit into a larger picture, too, one painted by a booming cruise industry that increasingly is priced for the middle class but that critics say has become too large too fast and needs stronger, more consistent oversight,” a New York Times story written by Kim Severson and other reporters noted, adding, “[w]ith the industry’s popularity has come concerns over safety, pollution and the impact of thousands of tourists. Communities including Key West, Fla.; Sitka, Alaska; and Charleston, S.C., are weighing the economic gains against the cultural and environmental impact of an industry with ships that can accommodate more than 6,000 people. ‘There are more ships out there, so we are seeing a higher number of incidents like this, and that is not good for the cruise industry,’ said Ross Klein, a faculty member at Memorial University in Newfoundland who has testified before Congress on the safety and environmental impact of cruise ships.”(6)
Inopportunely and only days before the “Triumph’s” horror show, South Carolina State Ports CEO Jim Newsome emailed, “Cruise ships, like any of the other ships calling our port, represent maritime commerce activity that is essential to supporting our local maritime community.” Codswallop, Mr. Newsome. Cruise ships aren’t like “any of the other ships,” they aren’t essential, and they represent only a small fraction of port revenues.
Cruise ships are sardine cans packed with passengers and crew, susceptible to horrific accidents that instantly can put thousands at risk for their lives. Although everyone has seen the sunken Carnival-owned Costa Concordia that took 33 passenger lives, few know that there have been 79 cruise ship fires since l990. Former Carnival Cruise Lines senior executive Jay Herring admits, “There are so many moving parts and things that can go wrong.”(7) In the case of the Carnival “Triumph,” they did. The NY Daily News wrote that “the interior portions of the 14-story ship have been turned into a sweltering, gut churning sauna far removed from the vision of the boat as ’24 hours of fun a day’ that the company promotes on its website.” One person related: “It’s like a bunch of savages on there.”(8) We’re unlikely to find out all that may have happened.
These people getting off the “Triumph” in Mobile are sick, some may be infected with nanoviruses; the crew (given credit by many passengers for their efforts) may be in worse shape; and certainly the ship itself is filthy and contaminated. These cruise ships, owned by foreign owned corporations, are not subject to the rigorous inspections required of ships registered in the US, their crews are also not given the same working condition protections, and, in fact, the Bahamian authorities will lead this accident investigation. “The result is that cruise ships are largely unregulated,” says maritime lawyer James Walker on CNN’s website.(9) Yet the potential for sickness, viruses and disease coming ashore is another important reason that cruise terminals must be isolated–kept apart and isolated for the safety of concentrated, general population areas. It’s not just the taxis, the provisioning trucks, the toxic soot and continuous noise, the parking, pollution and traffic problems, the requirements for ship and food safety, dangerous weapons and border security–the health of our residents is another reason why Charleston’s proposed large-scale cruise terminal must not be built at Union Pier downtown.