Crippled cruise close to Ala. terminal

Updated 10:06 PM

MOBILE, Ala. A cruise ship disabled for days at sea is within sight of the terminal at Mobile, Ala., but passengers still have hours to wait to disembark.

A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck were waving lights at the ship late Thursday.

Just earlier, a Carnival official said the disabled ship Triumph was now 5 miles from the cruise terminal.

Terry Thornton said the ship was expected to arrive between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Central time Thursday.

He said warm food, blankets, cellphones await passengers.

He said the ship would be taken Friday to a nearby repair facility to be assessed.

The miserable passengers aboard the ill-fated Carnival cruise line were slowly making their long journey home after crews repaired a broken tow line, another bad break that briefly set the ship adrift off the Alabama coast.

At about 4:20 p.m. CT Triumph entered Mobile Bay, although at the time it was still hours from the Alabama terminal. The broken towline and its replacement had delayed the ship's arrival.

On Thursday night, dozens of chartered buses — with markings from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — had gathered in Mobile.

Carnival said it will cover transportation costs.

Docking a ship takes three hours in a normal operation. But because of the ship's condition, it is taking many, many more hours than usual, CBS Mobile affiliate WKRG reported. CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority Jimmy Lyons says the winches are inoperable and the thrusters that normally get it in and out of the berths aren't working. Additionally, Triumph's arrival is also slowed by high winds.

A nighttime arrival could pose more complications, Lyons said. He said port officials prefer that the ship not come into the city at night because there are tricky turns and cross currents in Mobile Bay. He described the bay as only 10 feet deep outside the ship channel.

Since a fire in the engine room left the ship powerless Sunday, the ship abandoned its plans to travel to the Progreso, Mexico, and has been drifting to Mobile, Ala.

Conditions on the cruise ship continue to be dismal. Emailed photos (gallery at left) reveal squalid conditions. CBS correspondent Anna Werner reports many passengers used red plastic bags as toilets and that hundreds slept in hallways or topside to escape the foul and stagnate air below the deck. One passenger told CBS News at one point the ship leaned on one side so much, people feared it would tip over and sink.

From a helicopter, Werner said she could see people waving and some had signs that appear to be made out of bedsheets. One said "SOS" -- save our ship.

Robert Giordano, who said his wife Shannon is on the ship, said he was frustrated with the lack of information he has been able to get from Carnival, a complaint shared by Vivian Tilley, of San Diego, whose sister is also on the vessel.

Carnival, she said, has not told families what hotel passengers will be put in or provided precise information about when they will arrive in Mobile, Ala. And that came after the cruise line switched the ship's towing destination from Progreso to Mobile.

Carnival Senior Vice President Terry Thornton said in a press conference earlier Thursday that care teams were on their way to Mobile to assist families, "provide more information and to take care as best we can their needs," according to WKRG.


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