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Home > Cruise News Archive > Anatomy of a Cruise Relief Mission: How the Navy Came to the Aid of Carnival Splendor
Date Published: November 10, 2010
Carnival Cruise Lines Profile and Reviews
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Anatomy of a Cruise Relief Mission: How the Navy Came to the Aid of Carnival Splendor
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(7:30 p.m. EST) -- Part of the U.S. Navy's core mission is to deliver humanitarian aid for those in need -- be that a capsized boat off the coast of Africa or a cruise ship carrying 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew.

Passengers on the ill-fated Carnival Splendor Mexican Riviera cruise learned that firsthand on Tuesday, when the U.S. Navy undertook a mission to deliver 60,000 pounds of food and supplies -- including bottled water, Pop-Tarts and the much-publicized Spam -- to the stranded cruise ship.

Editor's Note: While Spam was, in fact, delivered, Carnival says no one -- passengers or crew -- actually ate the food product.

The mission kicked off Monday after the 113,000-ton, 952-foot-long Carnival Splendor was crippled by an engine room fire and set adrift west of Baja California. The Coast Guard responded first to Splendor's distress call, dispatching the Cutter Edisto and a C130 to survey the scene. A larger ship, the 378-foot Cutter Morgenthau, then arrived alongside the cruise ship Tuesday at 2 a.m., tasked with the job of escorting Carnival Splendor safely into port.

With the ship running on auxiliary power and the reality of losing a large amount of perishable food setting in, Carnival Cruise Lines asked the Coast Guard to help deliver provisions. However, "given the size and logistical challenge of this mission, the Navy stepped in [on Monday afternoon] to help and expedite the process," says Petty Officer Pamela Manns.

The most obvious candidate for the mission was the 1,092-foot-long USS Ronald Reagan, a Pacific-based aircraft carrier engaged in "comp training exercises," naval jargon for pre-deployment training for combat missions. Bringing aid to the stranded ship now took precedence, and the aircraft carrier and its roughly 5,000 crew chartered a course just south of Carnival Splendor, motoring some 80 nautical miles to reach a workable position.

But before the Navy could deliver a single Pop-Tart to hungry passengers, Carnival had to secure the provisions, then rent out the semis to deliver them to appropriate naval bases. From there, C-2A Greyhound logistics aircraft were loaded and directed for the USS Ronald Reagan. The menu -- and the bill -- was Carnival's responsibility. Provisions included bread, canned milk, disposable cups and utensils, croissants, sandwich meats, Pop-Tarts, canned crab and plenty of bottled water.

"Anything in a box or a can that be easily moved, doesn't have to be refrigerated, and can be served cold," said Hicks. Carnival was unavailable for comment.

Once onboard the USS Reagan, supplies were again offloaded, then tethered to HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopters, which would carry goods from aircraft carrier to cruise ship. The first shipment arrived at around 7 a.m., said Hicks, with teams from the Coast Guard and Navy assuring safe delivery zones (the ship's running track, for instance) so choppers could hover over and slowly lower the pallets onto Splendor. The operation, which remains unnamed, continued until sundown, when the last Sea Hawk headed back to its floating base.

Mission now accomplished, the Ronald Reagan has since returned to its original position, where combat training will recommence. The Navy will be keeping an eye on the situation. "We're standing off, but ready to respond," notes Hicks.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor

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