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The things they don't mention in cruise ship ads

On January 23 of this year, a passenger tumbled from the Carnival Triumph into the Gulf of Mexico. After several days of looking for the woman, the Mexican Navy eventually called off the search.

The incident is a reminder that these commercial fun ships - the Carnival Triumph in particular - have a nasty history of accidents, calamities and passenger deaths.

Hardly a triumph

The best example might be the problems passengers experienced on the Triumph in February 2013.

A fire started in the ship's engine room. This fire destroyed the ship's ability to generate power and navigation. From that moment on, the ship was stuck at sea. The ship's 4,200 passengers had to cope for five days in sweltering heat without air conditioning, without sanitation, and without refrigerated food. News accounts mentioned that the ship's walls and carpeting were saturated with raw sewage.

It was a disastrous voyage. Even when help arrived, and the ship was towed to port, a towline failed, and the people aboard faced additional delays. Unbelievably, in port the Triumph suffered additional serious problems, coming unmoored at one point and crashing into another boat.

Problems cruise ships face

Cruise ships have proved susceptible to a host of serious problems:

  • Loss of power leaves ships adrift at sea. It is not an uncommon phenomenon.
  • Fires break out. Fires are common at sea, and in recent years they have become even more common.
  • Sanitation issues, especially overflowing toilets. This is how the Carnival Triumph earned the nickname The Poop Cruise.
  • Abandoning ship. It's not an everyday occurrence, but evacuations do happen. In 2007 the Gap Adventures ship Explorer evacuated 154 passengers after hitting Antarctic ice. In 1999 a Sun Cruises ship off Malaysia evacuated over 1,000 passengers.
  • Running aground. About 2.5 ships run aground every year.
  • Sinking. You likely remember the 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast after it struck a rock. In this accident 32 people died. In 1994, the ship Estonia sank in the Baltic sea and 800-plus passengers perished.

The Carnival Triumph is still a working ship, and still welcoming passengers eager for a week of relaxation, But it was hardly an exception in the annals of cruise ships.

Source: New York Times, "Travel Cruise Mishaps: How Normal Are They?" (May 12, 2013)

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