The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

February 13, 2013

Handful of Palestine residents aboard stranded cruise ship

PALESTINE — At least seven people with ties to Palestine are among the 3,143 passengers stranded on a disabled Carnival Cruise Lines cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire Sunday knocked out the ship’s primary power source.

Palestine resident Charla Higginbotham, her mother Carolyn Boley Cox of Darden, Tenn. and formerly of Palestine, and several of their cousins are on the cruise ship together, according to Charla’s husband Robert Higginbotham.

Carnival Cruise Lines had sent an automated message to Robert on Sunday afternoon, as Charla’s emergency contact, to let him know about the fire and that the passengers were OK.

Charla’s first text message to her husband on Sunday afternoon said “hey, I’m serious, fire on boat, stuck at sea with no engine.”

“She called me right after she texted and told me about the fire and that they were without electricity,” Robert said. “The only way they have cell phone reception is when another ship is docked to give them supplies and they can bounce their cell phone signal off that ship to get out a phone call. That first day she said she was OK and felt safe, though the ship was leaning.”

The ship is leaning because its stabilizer is not working due to the lack of electricity, Robert said.

Robert also heard from his wife on Tuesday around 1 p.m.

“She told me about Carnival’s plan to take them to Mobile, Ala. instead of Progreso, Mexico. Once they arrive, they will take a bus ride to the airport and then fly them back to Houston,” Robert said.

Carnival Cruise Line is currently telling media outlets that they expect for the ship to arrive in Mobile on Thursday afternoon or evening.

“Charla heard that if they don’t get there by 8 p.m. Thursday that they can’t dock at night, so they would have to wait until Friday to dock,” Robert said. “Hopefully, they will get there Thursday afternoon.”

As conditions have continued to deteriorate on the ship, Charla described to her husband how things have changed from Sunday to Tuesday.

“Sewer is everywhere, really nasty. Lots of people have sunburns and are miserable. They are sleeping on decks and in hallways,” Robert said.

Robert also heard from others with family members on board that passengers were told to use plastic bags and showers for using the restroom due to the lack of running water.

“This was her second cruise. We went on the first one for our fifth anniversary and she really enjoyed it. She was pretty excited about going back,” Robert said about his wife.

According to what Robert has been told, Carnival Cruise Lines will refund the full amount paid for the cruise ticket and each passenger will be given a voucher for a free cruise in the future.

“She was suppose to be back at work Tuesday, but she will be lucky to be back at home by Friday now,” Robert said.

Two Anderson County adult probation officers (Amy Wiginton and Teddy Bishop) and Anderson County’s bond supervision officer Cindy Singletary also are on the cruise ship. They were scheduled to return to Galveston on Monday from their four-day cruise and return to work on Tuesday, according to Anderson County Community Service & Corrections Department employee Billy D. Allen.

Wiginton's daughter Nicole Rogers said she received a text message from her mother Monday, saying the conditions were bad, that they were waiting in long lines to get food and there was sewage everywhere.

“One of her friends has a pretty bad sunburn from being out on deck,” Rogers said.

Rogers said her mother has been on several cruises, but this one was supposed to be a “girlfriends themed cruise.”

“There was suppose to be all these little parties with girl stuff, but instead its just a bunch of girlfriends spending the week in raw sewage,” Rogers said. “They don’t really have access to communications and no electricity.”

Loyce and Bing Barnett of Elkhart reportedly were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on the cruise.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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