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Cruise passengers sue Carnival over 'floating hell'

Feb. 28, 2014 at 3:22 PM ET

Video: One year after being stranded at sea, passengers said in court they are still suffering after-effects from the deplorable conditions. In a pre-trail ruling, Judge Donald Graham said Carnival was negligent in maintaining the equipment that caught fire, which led to the travel nightmare. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

A group of passengers is suing Carnival Cruise Lines over an ill-fated voyage a year ago that left them stranded in the Gulf of Mexico with limited food, no power and overflowing toilets after an engine fire.

In court in Miami this week, passengers told stories of the trauma they say they suffered being stranded aboard the ship while it was dead in the water for five days. The Triumph was carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew at the time. 

In the civil suit, several dozen passengers called the disabled Triumph "a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell." They are seeking damages ranging from $30,000 to $1 million, saying they still suffer today. 

Larry Poret said he tried his best to keep his daughter, 12-year-old Rebecca, calm. "I just tired to stay as close as I could," he said. " She just hung on to my arm the whole time."

The Triumph lost power 150 miles off the Mexican coast. Passengers were stuck in sweltering heat with no air conditioning.

Passenger Debra Oubre said that she couldn't find her friend during the chaos onboard.

"I was fearful for her, because if I leave her she may die, and I felt extreme guilt," she said. 

In a pretrial ruling, Judge Donald Graham said that while a cruise ship ticket does not guarantee a seaworthy vessel, good food and sanitary conditions, Carnival was negligent in maintaining the equipment that caught fire and caused the power loss.

In a written statement to NBC News, Carnival said: "The current litigation by a handful of individuals is an opportunistic attempt to benefit financially ... principally based on claims of alleged emotional distress." Carnival said all passengers were given full refunds, a free trip for a future cruise and $500.

In court documents, the cruise line said its equipment was properly maintained and inspected and that the fire was an accident. 

The court is expected to hear testimony from more passengers before wrapping up next week.

TODAY's Joy Jernigan contributed to this report. 

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