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Nearly 4,500 stranded on cruise ship off Mexico

SAN DIEGO – Navy helicopters shuttled in supplies Tuesday to 4,500 passengers and crew members expected to remain stranded on a disabled cruise ship off the coast of Mexico at least through Wednesday night.

Two Mexican seagoing tugboats were expected to reach the Carnival Splendor on Tuesday afternoon to begin the slow process of towing it 150 miles to the nearest Mexican port at Ensenada. Passengers will be bused back to California from there.

The ship, which left from Long Beach on Sunday, was 200 miles south of San Diego when an engine room fire cut its power early Monday, according to a statement from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines. It began drifting off the coast of northern Baja California.

Monty Mathisen, of the New York-based publication Cruise Industry News, called the fire a freak accident.

“This stuff does not happen, I mean once in a blue moon,” he said.

None of the 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members aboard the Splendor were hurt, and the fire was put out in the generator’s compartment, but the 952-foot Mexican Riviera-bound ship had no hot water or telephone service. Cell phone and Internet service were knocked out because of the loss of power, preventing families from communicating with their loved ones.

The temperature in the area was 62 degrees, and there were scattered clouds, according to the Coast Guard.

Toni Sweet, of San Pedro, Calif., was frustrated Tuesday after relentlessly calling the cell phone of her cousin on board and getting no answer.

“We know everything is fine, but we’re just worried,” Sweet said. “She was nervous about going on a cruise ship even before this happened and now with this, I don’t think she’ll ever go again.”

Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva said the ship’s command has been able to communicate

with outsiders on a backup system.

After the fire, passengers were first asked to move from their cabins to the ship’s upper deck, but eventually were allowed to go back to their rooms.

Bottled water and cold food were provided, and the ship’s auxiliary power allowed for toilets and cold running water.

On Tuesday, U.S. sailors loaded cargo planes with boxes of crab meat, croissants and other items for the stranded passengers. They were to be ferried to an aircraft carrier at sea, where helicopters will pick them up and drop them on the ship, which only had enough food to last through midday Tuesday, Navy Commander Greg Hicks said.

Food was being brought in because refrigerators on the ship weren’t working.

Coast Guard Capt. Tom Farris said the passengers were safe but not necessarily happy.

“Without being there and I’m glad I’m not, I think they’re probably uncomfortable,” Farris said. “They’re being protected from being burned by the sun and kept warm.”

One tugboat reached the ship Tuesday afternoon. A second had to return to Ensenada because of mechanical problems, but Farris said towing should still begin Tuesday after the tugboat with problems heads back out to the ship.

Carnival is refunding the passengers.