What Can Happen When A Ship Loses Full Power? The Horrific Story Of Carnival’s “Poop Cruise From Hell”

By Alan
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We recently published a news article about a power failure on Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest ship. As a result of the piece we got some expressions of disbelief from our readers, stating that cruise ships have backup systems, and while the power failure was a short inconvenience, passengers were never in any danger.

And while we are sure passengers were certainly not in any danger on Icon, it is still a concern when ANY ship loses power, for whatever reason.

To illustrate this, we need to go back in the history books and recall the events of February 2013, when the Carnival Triumph (now known as the Carnival Sunrise), experienced a power outage in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

This was the cruise that would become ultimately referred to as “The Poop Cruise”.

Passengers on Carnival Triumph Appealing For Help
Passengers on Carnival Triumph Appealing For Help

A Fun Cruise To Cozumel

Carnival Triumph departed from Galveston, Texas on February 7th 2013, promising a delightful 4-day cruise to Cozumel and back.

All had gone well until the morning of Sunday the 10th of February the day after the ship left Cozumel.

“Alpha Team, Alpha Team, Alpha Team” – The Engine Room Fire

At 5:30am as the ship was sailing off the coast of Mexico, an Alpha Team Alert was announced on the ship’s tannoy system. This is the code for a fire on a Carnival cruise ship, and something you never want to hear unless it is a drill!

Guests in the 1st and 2nd decks awoke to find smoke in their hallways. They immediately started to panic, and made their way to the muster stations. Black thick smoke was seen to billowing from the famous Carnival “Whale Tail” smoke stack of the ship.

As word spread among guests, more and more of them made their way to the muster stations, despite no general alarm call having been made. This resulted in cruise ship staff having to make announcements that “there was no need to be at the muster stations, to remain calm and that the situation was under control”.

Soon after the initial Alpha Team announcement the ship lost power (including the ship’s propulsion system) and emergency lighting kicked in.

“No Need To Be Alarmed”

No Power, No Propulsion, No A/C and No Flushing Toilets

The fire was extinguished just after 6am. However, by this point, the ship was now adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly it wasn’t just the propulsion system that wasn’t working – there was no air conditioning, no running water, no elevators and worst of all, no flushing toilets or sewage disposal systems.

As the day progressed, passengers were eventually told that two tug boats were being despatched and that the ship would be towed to Progresso, Mexico ( a process that would take two days) and passengers would be flown home from there.

This reassured passengers, but little did they no their problems were just beginning and what was to be 2 days of inconvenience, turned out to be days and days of utter misery.

Poop in a Bag and Pee in the shower

As toilets began to back up due the inability for them to be flushed, passengers were given red biohazard bags and told that if they had to do a #2, they were to use the bags. If they just needed a #1 they were to use their shower.

Red Biohazard Bags As Used For Human Waste during the Carnival Triumph Poop Cruise
Red Biohazard Bags Were Use For Human Waste

As a result. bags of human waste began piling up outside cabin doors and along the corridors.

As the ships stabilisers could not function without power, winds were causing the ship to list heavily causing raw sewage to spill out of already blocked toilets and onto the carpets.

The stench in the hallways became unbearable. That, and the soaring temperatures due to no air conditioning, resulted in passengers hauling their mattresses onto any open deck areas they could find and sleeping there.

On the top deck, passengers even used sheets attached to railings to create a “tent city”.

Passengers resorted to sleeping on decks during the Carnival Triumph Poop cruise
Passengers resorted to sleeping on decks

Open Bar “Gesture” Leads To More Chaos

In an effort to quell the growing frustration and anger amongst the guests Carnival decided to provide an open bar as a goodwill gesture to the guests. This would run from mid-afternoon until midnight.

Many passengers took a little too much advantage of the free alcohol. Frustrations blew over and drunk passengers started to become very rowdy causing even more issues on the ship.

Tug Boats Helicopters And Other Cruise Ships Come To The Aid of The Ship

When the tugs finally arrived on the Tuesday, it was decided that rather than towing the vessel to a Mexican port, they would instead tow it to Mobile, Alabama.

This was for two reasons. Firstly, the ship had already drifted north away from Mexico and secondly, an arrival in Mexico would be complicated for many of the passengers who did not possess passports.

Whilst this helps alleviate some potential passenger logistics issues it would add a further two days of misery for the passengers.

Passengers reported human waste everywhere

Three other ships in Carnival’s fleets arrived alongside to transfer supplies to the ship as food was running out.

Food was having to be served cold eventually a helicopter dropped off a generator to allow power to be returned to certain areas of the ship and hot meals to be served.

This provided a much needed lifeline to passengers as they were able to re-charge their phones and get in contact with their families back home.

Guest Compensation

On arrival at Alabama, the Carnival’s CEO made a personal apology to the guests. Each guest was given a full refund for their cruise, $500, a free flight home, a refund of most of their onboard charges, plus a full credit for another cruise in the future.

For many, this was not seen as enough to compensate for their ordeal and a number of lawsuits were filed as a result of the incident.

The Disaster Was Not Over For Carnival Triumph

Events on the ship didn’t end there, however. During the dock repairs at Alabama, a heavy storm caused the ship to break free from its moorings and hit a dredger in the narrow port channel and a tug boat was caught between the two vessels. One person tragically died.

Carnival Triumph Hit Another Ship After It Broke Away From Its Moorings

Final repairs and cleaning of the ship to get it seaworthy again cost Carnival over 110 million dollars.

In later investigations (and confirmed by Carnival’s own internal reports), the ship sailed on 7th Feb with two of the six generators out of service. One of the generators was overdue for maintenance, which in itself would appear to be a breach of basic SOLAS requirements.

The incident ultimately resulted in Carnival spending $300m on a fleet-wide safety and maintenance program to identify any potential fire hazards in its engine rooms and to ensure this could never happen again.

Carnival still claims that the Triumph engine room fire was the result of an accident and not a result of negligence.

Carnival Triump Renamed Carnival Sunrise

In what was seen by many as a cynical effort to “disconnect” the Carnival Triumph from it’s “poop cruise” moniker and legacy, the ship was eventually renamed as Carnival Sunrise in 2019, following a massive $2000m overhaul and refurb.

Could Such An Incident Happen Again – How Safe Are Cruise Ships?

It is fair to say that incidents like this are extremely rare and cruise ships are very safe. To put things in perspective, if you live in the United States you have a 1 in 93 chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident. For cruise passengers, the odds increase to around 1 in 6 million!

No passengers died in this specific incident, so that’s probably not a fair comparison. How many fires break out on cruise ships. Again this is very rare, but it is hard to find proper statistics due to ships being registered in multiple countries.

Cruise Ships Are Safe

For incidents of fire, the insurer Allianz reported in their 2022 Safety and Shipping Review that there were 209 incidents that were attributed to fire. This was across ALL types of shipping, now just cruise ships. As you can see, the incidences are therefore very low.

A ship can lose power for many reasons, not just fire. As we reported the latest ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, Icon of the Seas had a power failure while at sea just a couple of days ago. You can bet, Royal Caribbean will have treated that incident seriously – no cruise line ever wants to be associated with the moniker “poop cruise” ever again.

When all is said and done, cruise passengers embark and disembark cruise ships every single day of the year in multiple locations all across the world and without incident. Cruise ships are safe and very fun places to be.

I wouldn’t ever hesitate to book a cruise and neither should you – life is for living – get out there and have fun!

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Alan took his first cruise in 1991 and has been cruising ever since. When he is not writing articles for CruiseNonstop.com you'll find him either on a cruise ship (he's the guy in the kilt), or on the golf course!

2 thoughts on “What Can Happen When A Ship Loses Full Power? The Horrific Story Of Carnival’s “Poop Cruise From Hell””

  1. Can u imagine poopin in a bag???? like what even is that.. totally gross! This article is wild, cant believe people paid for that experience hahaha.

  2. ok but honestly how bad can it be? people act like having no a/c is the end of the world… get over it, there’s worse things happening out there. and an open bar would make up for a lot lol. everyone’s just too soft these days…


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