Carnival Triumph: The experts weigh in

February 15, 2013

After a harrowing and unhygienic five days of floating in the Gulf of Mexico without power or flushing toilets, the Carnival Triumph finally managed to drag her sorry stern back to port in Mobile, Ala., a little over a week ago The last time the same sort of mishap — an engine-room fire — occurred was in 2010 on another Carnival ship, the Splendor. The next time this happens. . . . Well, will there be a next time?

For perspective on the situation, the Travel section contacted two cruise industry experts: Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor at Cruise Critic, and Jay Herring, author of “The Truth About Cruise Ships” and a former senior officer with Carnival Cruises.

How common are engine room fires and other meltdowns on cruise ships?

Herring: Cruising is very safe. These incidents are very rare — maybe once a year, once every couple of years. You’re more likely to be hurt driving to the cruise ship terminal than are you actually being on a cruise.

Brown: Engine room fires happen, but 99 percent of the time passengers aren’t affected.

Is Carnival to blame?

Herring: It could happen anywhere. Any ship at sea is at risk for a mishap.

How serious was the situation?

Herring: On a scale of 1 to 10, Costa was a 10. [Last year’s Costa Concordia accident in Italy caused 32 deaths.] This is a 5 or 6.

Did Carnival handle the disaster well?

Brown: This is a textbook case of how not to react. Nothing about the handling of the situation seemed well done.

Any heroes deserve a mention?

Brown: The crew kept everyone safe. The cruise line had better be generous to the crew.

Do you think Carnival’s compensation package — reimbursement for the trip, credit twoard a future cruise and $500 — is fair?

Herring: I think the compensation is more than adequate.

Will this event affect future bookings?

Brown: Not only virgins [newbie cruisers] but people who have cruised before are skittish. It’s a challenge to get past it. But if we can get past Costa, we can get past this.

Any advice for people now nervous about cruising?

Brown: Any ship designed after 2010 must have two engine rooms. If you have any concern, go for a ship that has this new feature.

Would you still sail Carnival?

Brown: I would take Carnival tomorrow. This was an aberration.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.
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