April 17, 2013 at 1:55 PM ET
Carnival Corporation – riding a wave of negative publicity after a fire on the cruise ship Triumph left passengers eating onion sandwiches and dodging sewage – announced Wednesday that it will spend up to $700 million to upgrade its fleet of 101 ships.
About half of that sum – more than $300 million – will go toward boosting emergency power and improving the reliability of the 24 ships operated by its subsidiary Carnival Cruise Lines, including the Triumph.
“This program announced today demonstrates our commitment to doing everything we possibly can to ensure our guests are comfortable under all circumstances and to continuously learn and improve,” spokesman Vance Gulliksen told NBC News.
As a first step, each Carnival Cruise Lines ship will get an additional emergency generator that will power stateroom and public toilets, and keep fresh water and elevators running if there is a loss of main power.
That work is already underway and will not affect scheduled itineraries, Carnival said.
A second permanent back-up power system will then be installed that will also keep cooking facilities and cold food storage going, as well as provide Internet and telephone access in case of a power outage.
In addition, Carnival plans to invest in new fire prevention, detection and suppression systems, and make changes that will reduce the chance of losing propulsion or primary power.
The company said it identified the fixes in a review that began after the Triumph engine room fire in February, which left the ship drifting in the Gulf of Mexico and forced the thousands of passengers on board to live without power or working toilets for days while the vessel was towed to port.
“All of Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships operate safely today,” said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, in a statement.
“However, by applying lessons learned through our fleet-wide operational review after the Carnival Triumph fire and by taking advantage of new technologies, we have identified areas for enhancement across our operations.”
Cruise industry observers praised the changes. Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com, called it very positive news.
"We're pleased to see such a significant investment and a concrete strategy from Carnival today relating to both the safety and comfort of cruise passengers," Brown told NBC News.
Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said the fleet-wide review should provide comfort to vacationers.
“After 197 cruises, I have never felt concerned that my safety aboard a cruise ship has ever been compromised,” Chiron said. “(I’m) glad Carnival Cruise Lines is taking immediate action to ensure their ships are better prepared to handle, however unlikely, future events.”
But there have been more troubling incidents for Carnival ships since the Triumph fire. Last week, it was revealed that the Carnival Fascination failed a recent CDC health inspection.
Last month, the Carnival Legend developed a propulsion system problem and the Carnival Dream became stuck at port after its emergency diesel generator failed during a scheduled test.
Carnival did not reply to a question about how current cruise bookings compare to this time last year.
Historically, about 10 million people book trips on the Carnival Corporation’s 10 cruise brands each year, with about 4.5 million of them sailing on Carnival Cruise Lines.