Carnival Triumph News Interpretted

| 2.13.13

I've read the news reports - what I expect we will really find when the ship arrives.

Carnival Triumph is waiting for power to be restored and for a second tugboat to arrive

February 13, 2013

Statement from Carnival president Gerry Cahill

Carnival Triumph Realities

With a shortage of specific details coming out of the Carnival Triumph, as it makes its way back to the United States to repatriate all of its passengers on board, I thought it would be a good idea to examine what we are hearing and discuss what I know to be accurate and not accurate about these snippets of images mostly coming in by text messages.

One of the first things we heard was that people were sleeping in "tents" out on deck. I never heard of a cruise ship being provisioned with "tents" before. Really?

One of the first things I heard was that there was an engine room fire, which was extinguished, but which left the ship without any power to operate any of the electricity-dependent services onboard.

To explain that - cruise ships are basically floating power plants. The engines, in the room where they say there was a fire, are in fact what most people would call diesel generators which burn carbon-based fuel in order to generate electricity. This electricity then powers almost everything on the ship including the propellers to propel the ship.

That is why the ship is "dead in the water" and "adrift." There are two kinds of propulsion systems on cruise ships - "screw propellers" where the engine is inside the hull of the ship, and "pod" which are self contained units attached to the bottom of the ship that work a little bit like outboard motors on a pleasure boat. Carnival Triumph has regular "screw propellers".

The company that makes almost all of this equipment is "Wartsilla" located in Germany. It is a bit odd that Carnival has now had two of these incidents when almost every cruise ship in the world uses the same engines. The same company also makes "bow thrusters" which are perpendicularly-mounted propellers within the bow which can turn the ship to either side. Power to those was lost as well.

When Carnival Splendor went powerless off the west coast of Mexico the fire was in the engine room control room, and it melted some critical cables that controlled the power grip for the ship. In the case of Triumph the fire was said to be in the "engine room" itself, which is the room that houses the engines, not the controls.

I would guess that Carnival already now knows the full extent of the damage, cruises have now been cancelled through late April. Splendor was also out of commission for months.

Toilets, etc.

The sanitation systems on cruise ships are not gravity controlled like they are in your home, the toilets are very sophisticated vacuum systems which suck the waste down with tremendous force and do not rely on water to wash things away. For that reason, they just don't work without electricity. Who knows, maybe in future ships they will invent an emergency system that uses gravity, but they do not have that now.

I have seen water back up on cruise ships, but it is very important to distinguish between what is known as "black water" (from toilets) and "gray water" from showers, dishwashers and sinks. Unfortunately, if there is an infiltration of black water, I am sure Carnival would clean it up - if they had the power. But on a dead ship there are no "water vacs" available.

There were reports of "sewage running down the walls" - we have no idea how accurate that is right now, but I find it doubtful. Cruise ships produce far more gray water than black water, and if anything has backed up it is likely the gray water system.

In order to avoid serious sanitation problems I don't think the officers on the ship would allow people to use systems that would result in black water sewage coming down the walls, but I can easily foresee gray water backing up from shower drains and soaking carpets and hence leaking through floors and coming down walls.


I have heard a few news anchors asking why they don't just get the passengers off the ship as soon as possible. The answer is that it has become a well-established rule of the sea that the original vessel, as long as it is sound and whole, although powerless, is the safest place to keep people. It is called "the ship as the lifeboat" principle. Any attempt to transfer thousands of passengers to another ship would introduce an element of danger, crowding, confusion and uncertainty. The people are inconvenienced where they are, but they are perfectly safe.

The Ship is Listing

We heard one man reporting to various news stations that he had spoken to his wife during the brief time that another Carnival ship was alongside. This would happen because every working cruise ship has a cell phone network where people can use their own cell phones to call out.

This man reported that his wife was "scared" because the ship was listing and there were rumors going around the ship that it could turn over. It seems to me that this woman was not keeping company with people knowledgeable about cruise ships. No cruise ship has ever "tipped over" to the point beyond recovery. Ships may tilt when they take on a lot of water, but Triumph was not taking on any water. If it was listing at all (reports said it was tilting less than 5-degrees, less than a wheel chair ramp) it was most like solely because of wind blowing the ship to one side, possibly along with a current in the water, which was reportedly strong enough to push the ship 30 miles over night.

Food Services

In the case of Splendor the food was not very palatable, but the crew pulled together and got everybody fed. In both cases the passengers were asked to stay on the open decks, because the inside was dark except for emergency lights. Plus the air conditioning was off, and so the ship was hot. By Wednesday the ship will start cooling off, more food will be in supply on the upper decks and people will likely sleep in their own beds. In other words, the situation should be getting better - the worst over.


As always, the worst thing about such incidents is the inconvenience factor for the people onboard. Much like the Carnival Splendor, I predict we will hear many stories about how the crew pulled through for everyone. After all, I spoke to the cruise director who held everything together during the Splendor crisis, and I know that Carnival learned an awful lot during that crisis.

There will be some people who will say the whole experience was awful, but I predict the vast majority of people will not be too upset, and like with Splendor, many will say it was actually kind of fun. The only difference this time was that the Navy did not have to send a helicopter full of food and water, Carnival was able to do that for itself with other ships in the area. The ship probably has plenty of food. The problem is that you cannot safely cook it without electricity. Fire is a serious hazard on a vessel at sea.

The Crew Makes or Breaks It

With Carnival Splendor the trapped guests could not praise the crew enough. I am a little curious why we are not hearing the same thing this time, but I suspect we will hear it by the time this is over. I know cruise line employees, they are dedicated and well managed.

The question will be - how did the other passengers behave?

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