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SAN DIEGO (AP) — A cruise ship stranded offshore with 4,500 passengers and crew must be towed slowly into a Mexican port and will not arrive until at least Wednesday night, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.
The Carnival Splendor 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.
The 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members were not hurt and the fire was put out, but the 952-foot ship had no air conditioning, hot water or telephone service. Auxiliary power allowed toilets and cold running water to be restored Monday night.
The Mexican Riviera-bound ship, which was drifting about 55 miles off the northern Baja California coast, was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard, which deployed aircraft and ships along with the U.S. Navy and Mexican Navy.
Mexican seagoing tugboats contracted out of the port of Ensenada were expected to reach the cruise ship at midday Tuesday and arrive back at the port around 8 p.m. PST Wednesday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf said.
Metcalf said the tugs, which will be escorted by a Coast Guard cutter, must move slowly because the ship is so big.
Passengers will be taken by bus to California, said Joyce Oliva, a Carnival spokeswoman. She said she was unaware of any safety concerns from passengers or their families about traveling by bus in Mexico.
Ensenada is about 50 miles south of the nearest U.S. border crossing, in San Diego.
Ensenada Port Capt. Carlos Carrillo said some bus companies that normally work with cruise ships docked in Ensenada already take passengers to the border.
"We get a Carnival cruise once a week, on Wednesdays, and they already have everything arranged with some local bus companies and with their own bus companies," Carrillo said. "I don't think it will be much trouble to get the passengers to the border."
Once passengers are dropped off, the Splendor will be towed back to Long Beach, Calif., a journey that will take days. That's why the passengers will be dropped off in Mexico first.
"They didn't want to keep them aboard any longer than they had to," Metcalf said. "They're running only critical systems as of now."
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, conducting maneuvers 120 miles south of San Diego, was diverted to help the ship. About 70,000 pounds of supplies, including bread, utensils, cups, milk, canned food and other items, will be flown to the Reagan, where helicopters will transfer them to the stricken cruise ship, Cmdr. Greg Hicks said.
The Splendor's seven-day voyage, which began in Long Beach, was canceled and guests will get refunds, reimbursement for transportation costs and a free future cruise of equal value, the cruise line said.
After the fire, passengers were first asked to move from their cabins to the ship's upper deck, but eventually allowed to go back to their rooms. Bottled water and cold food were being provided.
"We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests and we sincerely thank them for their patience," Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in the statement. "Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring."
Carnival Corp.'s stock was down about 1 percent Tuesday.
Toni Sweet of San Pedro, Calif., was watching TV when she saw a news report about the stranded ship and realized her cousin Vicky Alvarez and her cousin's husband, Fernando, were on board.
She had dropped the Las Vegas couple off at the dock in Long Beach for the cruise, their first break after caring for their aging parents. She said Vicky was nervous about the trip, but Sweet reassured her everything would be fine. She has not heard from them since the fire.
"It's their first cruise and they were real anxious. I don't think they're going to take another," she said. "Here you want them to have a good time and then this happened."