Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 07:30 AM
HOUSTON — Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before an engine-room fire left it powerless in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company’s announcement Wednesday came as the Triumph was being towed to a port in Mobile, Ala., with more than 4,000 people on board, some of whom have complained to relatives that conditions on the ship are dismal and that they have limited access to food and bathrooms.
The ship will be idle through April. Two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday’s fire.
After losing power on its most recent journey, the ship drifted until Tuesday, when two tugboats began moving it toward shore. A third tugboat was en route Wednesday from Louisiana.
The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the fire.
Passengers have had limited cellphone service because of the power failure, but many were able to make calls to friends and family when the Triumph rendezvoused with another Carnival ship that dropped off food and supplies. The other ship had a working cellular antenna.
Robert Giordano, of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said he last spoke to his wife, Shannon, on Monday. She told him she waited in line for three hours to get a hot dog, and that conditions on the ship were terrible.
“They’re having to urinate in the shower. They’ve been passing out plastic bags to go to the bathroom,” Giordano said. “There was fecal matter all over the floor.”
Even more distressing, Giordano said, has been the lack of information he has been able to get from Carnival, a complaint shared by Vivian Tilley, of San Diego, whose sister is on the vessel.
Carnival, she said, has not told families what hotel passengers will be put in or provided precise information about when they will arrive in Mobile. And that came after the cruise line switched the ship’s towing destination from Progreso, Mexico, to Mobile.
Tilley said her sister, Renee Shanar, of Houston, told her the cabins were hot and smelled like smoke from the engine fire, forcing passengers to stay on the deck. She also said people were getting sick.
Meanwhile, officials in Mobile are preparing a cruise terminal that has not been used for a year to help passengers go through customs after their ordeal. The Triumph is expected to arrive Thursday afternoon.
The cruise-ship company has chartered 15 buses to haul passengers to hotels in New Orleans and downtown Mobile, said Barbara Drummond, a spokeswoman for the city of Mobile. Carnival said passengers would also be able to fly home on chartered flights.
The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.
Passengers are supposed to receive a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival said Wednesday each would get an additional $500 in compensation.
“We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” Carnival President and Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill said. “We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure.”
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen acknowledged the Triumph’s recent mechanical woes, explaining there was an electrical problem with the ship’s alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2.
Testing of the repaired part was successful and “there is no evidence at this time of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on Feb. 10.”
But according to the email sent to the passengers on the earlier cruise, the problem affected the ship’s cruising speeds, delaying its arrival in Galveston. The email also informed those passengers that the propulsion problem would prevent them from docking at two ports.
CEO Gerry Cahill of Carnival