AFN publisher among stranded cruise ship passengers
Ahwatukee Foothills News publisher Jason Joseph (top left) waves to greeters as the tugboats bring the Carnival Splendor back to shore. The 952-foot cruise liner that found itself dead in the water earlier this week after leaving for a cruise of Mexico. Submitted photo

Jason Joseph had hoped to see the ports along the Mexican Riviera this week, but he was even happier to see the USS Ronald Reagan.

"Everyone cheered when that ship appeared. I felt all of the tension drain out of my body," said Joseph, publisher of the Ahwatukee Foothills News and one of 4,500 passengers and crew aboard Carnival Splendor, the 952-foot cruise liner that found itself dead in the water earlier this week after leaving for a cruise of Mexico.

The ship lost power after an engine fire Monday and was adrift about 200 miles outside San Diego and 44 miles off the coast of Mexico.

At that distance from land, it was out of cell phone range for much of the ordeal. The fire left the ship without air conditioning, hot water or hot food. The casino was closed and, for a time, so were the bars. The swimming pool was off-limits because the pumps wouldn't work.

Although it wasn't announced until later in the cruise, Joseph said he sensed a fire broke out on the ship.

"I kind of wish they were upfront and honest with us and told us that there was a fire from the beginning, but we didn't know that until later," Joseph said this morning. "They probably didn't say anything at first because they did not want people to panic."

Joseph said he felt "unbelievable shaking" from the ship, followed by the smell of smoke.

"The smell of the smoke was absolutely unbearable, then the ship came to complete stop," Joseph said.

The ship's passengers were nervous, Joseph said, until the aircraft carrier arrived on the scene.

"The mood was lifted once they got there because we knew that we had protection," he said.

Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods. Though he didn't see any Spam, Joseph said the crew served bread, cheese, salad, hamburger buns with a few slices of hot dogs and "melted ice cream almost like a milkshake."

Many passengers passed the time by staying on deck, looking up at the starry sky or out at the USS Ronald Reagan, which brought the supplies.

Some chatted in their dark, stuffy cabins. Others simply went to bed early. Very early.

"We slept all day, the first day," Geoffrey Klinge, who was honeymooning with his new wife, Sabrina Klinge, said Friday on NBC's "Today" show.

Passengers on lower decks had to climb as many as nine flights of stairs to get to the cafeteria only to meet long lines that stretched on for hours. By the time those at the end got to the food, they were left with tomatoes and lettuce.

Joseph, who had a cabin with a balcony, said he credited the Carnival crew for acting professionally in this emergency.

Because there were eight or nine flights of steps and no elevator service, many crew members lined the steps in an assembly line to help passengers get their luggage off.

"Under the circumstances, Carnival did a good job keeping people composed under the conditions they were working with, and they were doing this for 4,000 people," Joseph said.

Some passengers carried food to those who used walkers and canes and couldn't climb stairs to reach the food lines.

"We have not had a hot cup of coffee in four days," said passenger Fahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, who ate at night by flashlight. "This was my first cruise and it was no luxury, no fun."

On Thursday morning, people clutched those cold cups of coffee and cheered when the San Diego horizon came into view.

Klinge complimented both the crew and Cruise Director John Heald, saying they maintained their professionalism despite trying circumstances.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the probe into the fire's cause would be conducted by Panama. Panama agreed to let the U.S. Coast Guard join the investigation because most of the passengers were U.S. citizens and two NTSB experts would assist, the NTSB said.

The incident will be costly for Carnival, but it won't have to repay the Navy for delivering food from the carrier. The Reagan was nearby on a training mission, and responding to the ship was nothing more than a "minor distraction," said Chief Petty Officer Terry Feeney.

Passengers will get a refund, including airfare, and a two-year voucher for a free cruise. Those holding reservations on the next Splendor cruise, which was scheduled to depart Sunday but was canceled, will be offered full refunds and a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.

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