Carnival Triumph could have made port much sooner, lawsuits allege

New lawsuits allege that the Carnival Triumph debacle involved a string of mistakes, including ignoring mechanical warnings and dangerously delaying the ship's return to port.

G M Andrews/AP
People watch from their balconies aboard the Carnival Triumph after it was towed to the cruise terminal in Mobile, Ala., last Thursday.

Two prior incidents involving the propulsion system of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph may have set the stage for the Feb. 10 engine-room fire that left the ship powerless and without toilets for five days at sea, according to a lawsuit filed in Miami.

“A cruise in mid-January 2013 on the Triumph was affected by propulsion issues and on January 28, 2013, there was an incident which resulted in damage to the Triumph’s … propulsion system and generators,” the complaint says. “Notwithstanding said issues, Carnival knowingly decided to embark on the subject voyage,” the suit says.

The class-action lawsuit is one of several complaints filed against the Miami-based cruise company in federal court in Miami seeking damages for what many passengers on the stranded ship described as a cruise through hell.

The Triumph, a 14-story luxury liner carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, was left stranded at sea midway through a four-day cruise from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, Mexico, and back.

An engine-room fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion system, its power generators, refrigeration, air conditioning, and the vessel’s toilets. It took five days to tow the disabled ship and its passengers to a repair facility in Mobile, Ala.

Although many passengers praised the crew for their efforts under grim circumstances, others emerged from the ship harboring a deep sense of injury.

The Miami class-action suit is filed by Matt and Melissa Crusan of Oklahoma and on behalf of all other similarly-situated Triumph passengers.

It says the cruise line allowed a hazardous condition to exist on the ship and that officials “knew or should have known that the vessel Triumph was likely to experience mechanical and/or engine issues because of prior similar issues.”

The suit says that after the fire Carnival officials decided to head to the closest port, Progreso, Mexico, 150 miles away. Later the plan changed and officials decided instead to tow the ship – and its passengers – 500 miles to Mobile.

“This decision was motivated solely by financial gain and Carnival’s convenience,” the suit says. “Were [the disabled ship] to have been towed back to Mexico, Carnival would have needed a second tow back to the United States at significant additional expense.”

Although the cruise left from Galveston, Carnival towed the ship to Mobile, the location of a ship repair facility.

Lawyers say the decision to tow the ship to Alabama rather than a closer port intentionally exposed their clients to “many more days on the vessel than was reasonable and necessary.”

The lawsuit, filed by Miami lawyer Michael Winkleman, charges Carnival with negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks compensatory and unspecified punitive damages.  

A second lawsuit, filed on behalf of passenger Cassie Terry of Texas also charges that Carnival endangered passengers by failing to tow the ship to the nearest port after the fire.

“The decision was taken not out of safety, but deliberately to save the cost of a claim for salvage, which may have, (given the factors in maritime law) amounted to $50 million to $100 million,” the suit says.

“Instead, Defendant Carnival Corporation chose to put the Plaintiff and other passengers on the ‘voyage of the damned’ for days without proper food or sanitation, all for the sake not of human life and well being, but corporate profit,” wrote Pearland, Texas, lawyer Marcus Spagnoletti, in his complaint.

The complaint says that Ms. Terry “feared for her life and safety, under constant threat of contracting serious illness by the raw sewage filling the vessel.”

The suit says that during the tow to Alabama the ship listed sharply several times “causing human waste to spill out of non-functioning toilets, flood across the vessel’s floors and halls, and drip down the vessel’s walls.”

Mr. Spagnoletti’s complaint says that his client “was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell.”

An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway. Because the Triumph is registered in the Bahamas, the lead agency in the probe is the Bahamas Maritime Authority. The US National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard are also investigating.

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