By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
PINE TOWNSHIP, GULF OF MEXICO —
Rose Jones' first cruise was a trip she'll never forget -- the Pine Township woman and her sister were passengers on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph that was stuck in the Gulf of Mexico for five days after it lost power.
"The first four days were fine," she said Sunday of the planned part of the trip, which included half a day in Cozumel, Mexico.
The ship carrying 4,200 passengers left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7. A fire in the engine room Feb. 10 paralyzed the 14-story vessel, leaving it adrift until tugboats towed it to Mobile, Ala., where it took four hours for everyone to disembark, according to the Associated Press.
"It was bad but it could have been worse," Jones said.
The latest update says a leak in a fuel oil return line caused the fire, cutting power and leaving the passengers without working toilets, Coast Guard Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield told AP.
"We all knew there was a fire," Jones said, adding there were frequent updates over the ship's public address system, the pair splitting their time between their sixth-level room with a balcony and the top deck after the ship lost power.
Her sister, Patricia Parenti, a former Grove City area resident who lives in Houston and works for an advertising firm, won the cruise trip for two through a work promotion.
Parenti has been on at least 20 cruises, all without any problems. The sisters were looking forward to a fun vacation together, and they had a good time traveling to Cozumel, where they shopped and took in the sights, Jones said.
The trip back to Galveston was OK at first until early Feb. 10, when they learned there was some kind of problem; the details weren't announced right away. The air conditioning stopped working, followed by the power and most of the toilets.
"Thank God we had a balcony," Jones said, adding Parenti decided they should gather their important belongings "just in case."
They soon learned of the fire but there were never any orders to evacuate their rooms. They never imagined the ship would be stuck in the Gulf for five days, though.
The balcony allowed them to get fresh air while passengers in interior rooms without windows got too hot, some choosing to camp out in the hallways or upper decks.
The sisters were told they could use their shower instead of their toilet for bathroom needs, but they chose to use plastic bags and garbage cans in case the floor drain didn't work, Jones said.
Some parts of the ship smelled like sewage while another part smelled like there had been an electrical fire, but the sisters never got too scared or worried, realizing the situation could have been worse.
"You do what you have to do," Jones said.
They were thankful to be able to eat three meals a day, even if that meant waiting in a long line for dry cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit instead of the lavish buffets and hot meals usually served on cruise ships.
"There wasn't a lot of animosity," Jones said of the atmosphere on the ship.
They pretty much kept to themselves, reading, doing puzzle books or watching movies in common areas during the day and returning to their room when it got dark.
The ship's crew did a great job of handling everything, said Jones, who was able to get some blood pressure medicine and baby aspirin since she didn't pack an extra five days' worth of pills.
There wasn't any cell phone service, so the passengers couldn't contact friends and family back on land, but helicopters and the Coast Guard did deliver food and supplies while the ship was in limbo.
Finally hitting land in Mobile was a "great feeling" and it took the sisters about two hours to disembark, said Jones, who left the ship wearing a bathrobe provided by Carnival because she was cold.
She was bussed to New Orleans, where she spent a few hours in a hotel, glad to have running water and a hot meal, and getting in touch with her family.
"He was not very happy," Jones said of her husband Harry's reaction to her troubled trip.
She then flew to Houston and landed in Pittsburgh, where she was met by her daughter Julia, who had been receiving regular updates from Carnival by phone.
The cost of her return trip, including the hotel, was covered by Carnival, which is also reimbursing the cruise and offering a free ticket for a future trip.
"When I got home it was great. The little things mean a lot," Jones said.
She wasn't put off by her first cruise and would go on another one, and she doesn't blame Carnival for the problems.
"It wasn't something they did intentionally. You're alive and you're still able to move," she said of how a fire could have led to injuries.
Parenti had a shorter trip home back to Houston and agrees with her older sister, saying she's thankful it wasn't worse.
"But I was relieved," she said of making it home.
Parenti does have concerns that Carnival might have known the ship wasn't in the best shape, but she'd still go on another cruise, as long as her room has a balcony.
"I feel very blessed and lucky," she said, adding anyone taking a cruise should have a small emergency bag handy with first aid, snacks, a flashlight and extra medication.
The investigation will take about six months and is being led by the Bahamas, where the ship is registered; the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are assisting since the boat was in international waters when the fire broke out, Hatfield said.
Investigators have been with the ship since it arrived Thursday in Mobile, where passengers and the Carnival crew have been interviewed and a forensic analysis has been performed on the vessel.
The crew responded appropriately to the fire and "did a very good job," Hatfield said.
Published Feb. 20, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.