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Passengers tell of cruise ship nightmare

A disabled cruise liner arrived in California after three nightmarish days adrift on the Pacific amid cheers from passengers who told of limited food, blocked toilets and dark cabins.

The 4,500 passengers and crew members trickled off the Carnival Splendor in San Diego throughout yesterday, the process slowed by disabled lifts, out of order since the engine room fire on Monday that left the ship adrift off Mexico.

Pulled by six tugboats and escorted by US Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000ft liner reached the dock at about 8.30am local time (4.30pm GMT), unable to steer or propel itself.

The first of the nearly 3,300 passengers walked down a ramp about an hour later, dragging suitcases into a tent on the dock.

"I love being back on land," said passenger Ken King, who was 42 yesterday.

Mr King said he and his travelling companion were celebrating their birthdays on the cruise, so Carnival chose them to be in the first group off the ship.

"The staff was excellent. Only a few people on board were rude. The food was horrible. Starting at 5am on Monday, we didn't have toilets for 13 hours," he said.

People on the decks and about 100 onshore cheered loudly as the ship reached the dock, while all along the harbour, tourists, joggers and fishermen stopped to take photos.

Seventy-five buses arrived to drive passengers north to Long Beach, where the Splendor is based. Passengers were also given the option of staying overnight at San Diego hotels.

"It's been like a nightmare," Fahizah Alim, 26, said. "There's been no food, no power, no electricity, no flushing toilets. I spent the night tossing and turning in my cabin in the dark."

The ship left Long Beach, California, on Sunday for a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera, only to return days early without ever reaching the beaches holidaymakers had hoped for.

A fire in the engine room knocked out power on Monday morning, leaving passengers with no air conditioning, no hot food, hot water, or casino. The swimming pool was also off-limits because there was no way to pump chlorine.

Aboard the ship, lines for cold food stretched for hours during the days after the power went out. Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew, passengers said.

Some passengers carried food to others who used walkers and canes and could not climb up nine decks of stairs to reach the food lines, Ms Alim said.

Passengers spent their last night drinking free wine and beer at the bar and singing old songs.

After the Splendor docked Gerry Cahill, chief executive of Carnival Carnival Cruise Lines told passengers via ship's intercom: "I'm very sorry. I would like to thank you for all your patience and understanding that you showed throughout the situation."

The National Transportation Safety Board said today that the probe into the fire would be conducted by Panama.

Panama has agreed to let the US Coast Guard join the investigation because most of the passengers were US citizens and two NTSB experts would assist.

Mr Cahill said earlier the crankcase on one of six diesel generators "split", causing the fire. He said he doubted other ships in the Miami, Florida-based company's fleet were at risk.

The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles offshore when the fire knocked out its power.

Carnival first planned to tow the ship to the Mexican port of Ensenada - not far from a movie studio complex used to film Titanic - and bus passengers to the US.

But the cruise line decided it would be better to go a little further to San Diego, sparing passengers the 50-mile bus ride to the border. San Diego also offered more transport and hotel options.

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