The former fun seekers of the Carnival Splendor are cruising again - but just barely.
In a scenario likely none of its more than 3,000 passengers pictured when they planned their seven-day jaunt on the Mexican Riviera, the disabled cruise liner was being towed to San Diego by tugboats. Instead of a lavish seafood buffet, passengers were subsisting on Spam.
After two days adrift, the ship began moving again Tuesday when the first of several Mexican tugboats arrived. Rocking gently with the waves, the ship was pulled along slowly with a Coast Guard boat along one side and the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on the ship's other side. There were no visible signs of damage.
The 952-foot vessel was expected to arrive in San Diego on Thursday night, Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement.
The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles off shore when an engine room fire Monday morning killed its power and set it adrift.
No one was hurt, but the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew were left without air conditioning, hot water, cell phone or Internet service. The ship's auxiliary power allowed for working toilets and cold water.
U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopters were ferrying supplies, including Spam, crab meat, croissants and Pop Tarts to the ship from the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that reached the Splendor after it was diverted from training maneuvers to help.
The Splendor only had enough food to last through midday Tuesday because refrigerators on the ship stopped working after the power was knocked out, Navy Commander Greg Hicks said. But thousands of pounds of food was delivered by Tuesday night.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Mexican Navy also sent resources to the ship.
The tugboats were originally set to take the Splendor to Ensenada, Mexico, but the cruise line changed its plans and will attempt to have it towed to San Diego, where hotel and flight arrangements would await the passengers, Carnival said.
If the process moves too slowly, it may still be taken to Ensenada, the statement said.
As of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Splendor was about 190 miles south of San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The ship was being towed by one Mexican tugboat while a smaller counterpart helped the ship maneuver. A third tug boat, the U.S.-based Monterey Bay, was scheduled to arrive late Tuesday night, the paper said.
Toni Sweet, of San Pedro, Calif., was frustrated when she couldn't reach her cousin, Vicky Alvarez, aboard the ship. She said she called her cell phone and did not get an 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 is able to communicate with outsiders on a backup system.
Carnival Corp.'s stock was down about 1 percent Tuesday.
The situation will be costly for Carnival, which is refunding passengers, offering vouchers for future cruises and may have to dry dock the ship if the damage is extensive.
"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 a statement.
Accidents like the engine-room fire are rare, said Monty Mathisen, of the New York-based publication Cruise Industry News.
The last major cruise accident was in 2007 when a ship with more than 1,500 people sank after hitting rocks near the Aegean island of Santorini, Mathisen said. Two French tourists died.
In May, a machine room fire in a cruise ship off the coast of Norway forced 607 people aboard to evacuate.
"The ships have to be safe, if not the market will collapse," Mathisen said.
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Mariana Martinez in Tijuana, Mexico, Olga R. Rodriguez and Alexandra Olson in Mexico City, Carson Walker in Phoenix and photographer Greg Bull aboard the USS Ronald Reagan contributed to this report.
© 2010 The Associated Press.