March 18, 2003
Carnival, which abruptly transferred the New Orleans-based Conquest to Gulfport as a result of rising river levels, experienced more than the usual first-time jitters. The ship, whose arrival was delayed five hours by fog (as were ships aiming for New Orleans that night), also experienced a severe and sudden broadside tilt that broke glasses and bottles and had some passengers reportedly reaching for life jackets. According to Carnival's Tim Gallagher, "at about 12:10 a.m. last Sunday as the Captain was navigating towards the Gulfport sea buoy where we would meet the pilot we experienced approximately a 3 degree list to starboard. The Captain had just begun a turn to put the vessel on a course for the sea buoy which was approximately 18 miles away. We had just reduced speed from 20 to 17.7 knots prior to the turn. Wind was steady at 11 knots and there was patchy to heavy fog. After we initiated the turn, we were hit by a squall with 28 knot winds hitting the vessel broadside. That combined with the already slight list from the turn resulted in the 3 degree list. It lasted about 10 seconds." While the cause of the sudden maneuver is largely unknown at this point, rumors that the ship veered suddenly to avoid another vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are, according to Gallagher, unfounded. The spokesman says there was a full compliment of officers -- "including the captain" -- on the bridge at that time and "none of them saw any lights nor was any other vessel detected on the radar. As I understand it neither the Gulfport nor Pascagoula (that channel was about 1.5 miles away) pilots have reports of any other vessel maneuvering in the area at that time. We are confident that there was no other vessel in the area." The U.S. Coast Guard did engage in a brief inspection, boarding the ship and meeting with the captain to go over logs and Gallagher describes the get-together as "cordial."