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(5:15 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Splendor, crippled by an engine-room fire on Monday and set adrift about 80 miles west of Baja California, has been met by one of the commercial ocean-going tugs sent to rendezvous with the ship, Cruise Critic has learned. The tug has now begun towing the ship to Ensenada, Mexico.
More tugs are on the way, said Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, though he could not say when they would arrive.
Earlier Tuesday, officials estimated that the trip to the port should take about 24 hours after the 113,000-ton, 952-foot-long ship is rigged to the tugs. The ship is expected to arrive back in Ensenada at around 8 p.m. PST Wednesday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf told the Associated Press.
"Our assessment of the situation right now is that the crew and the cruise ship are not in immediate danger," said Coast Guard Lt. Khris Johns on NBC's "Today" show. He called in to the show from one of the cutters that reached the ship first.
Johns said that while there is still "no propulsion to the ship ... there is also no structural damage to the ship and no report of flooding."
Generators are providing power to navigation equipment and emergency-detection systems, plus "basic services such as sewage and water." Though the air conditioning is not operable, the Coast Guard reports air temperatures at the scene are in the mid-60s.
Cold water and toilet service were restored late Monday to cabins, said Carnival in its latest statement. Furthermore, "guests have access to their cabins and can move about the ship."
A U.S. Navy press release also notes that, at the request of U.S. Coast Guard District Eleven in San Diego, the Navy has diverted the USS Ronald Reagan in order to facilitate the delivery of needed supplies to Carnival Splendor. An expected total of 35 pallets of supplies will be transferred today by helicopter sent from the aircraft carrier.
In a telephone conversation with Cruise Critic, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Rick Foster added that, at this point, the main mission is to coordinate the safe transportation of Carnival Splendor into port. Joyce Oliva, a Carnival spokeswoman, told the AP that passengers will then be bussed from Ensenada back across the border to California.
Ensenada Port Capt. Carlos Carrillo told the Associated Press that because some bus local bus companies already regularly work with cruise lines, he doesn't "think it will be much trouble to get the passengers to the border." With passengers safely off the ship, Carnival Splendor will then be towed back to Long Beach, California. That particular journey will take days -- thus the need to drop passengers off in Mexico first.
The ship, carrying 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crewmembers, became disabled Monday after an early-morning fire in the aft engine room. The ship was on Day 1 of a weeklong Mexican Riviera tour with scheduled visits in the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
Late Monday, the cruise line announced passenger compensation for the canceled cruise Monday evening. "Guests on the current voyage will be receiving a full refund along with reimbursement for transportation costs," said a Carnival statement. "Additionally, they will receive a complimentary future cruise equal to the amount paid for this voyage."
We'll be monitoring the situation throughout the day, so check back for the latest.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, and John Deiner, Managing Editor
--Images appear courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
Fire FAQ: Passenger Safety, Damage Report, More
Slideshow: U.S. Navy Supply Mission
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Update: Tug Reaches Disabled Carnival Splendor; Ship 'Not in Immediate Danger'
November 9, 2010