By Ashleigh Bugg
“The urine was burning my ankles so bad I had to roll my pant legs up …. Everything was contaminated. There was so much scavenging and stealing; it was a mad house.”
UMHB landscape supervisor William Dugger and his family expected a relaxing four-day cruise to Mexico on the Carnival ship, Triumph. What they got instead was a hellish eight-day voyage that exemplified the best and worst of human nature.
A fuel oil leak Feb. 10 caused a fire in the engine room of the ship, leaving nearly 3,000 passengers adrift and without power for five days.
“Our biggest thing was we didn’t know if the world knew or not,” Dugger said. “When that generator went out, people didn’t panic. They just got really quiet. We were all in shock.”
Passengers quickly formed “tribes.” Dugger, his wife, Kim, and their 16-year-old son , Lance, stayed at the back of the ship near the top deck. They made make-shift beds out of deck chairs and pillows. Passengers were forced to break open fire doors just to get air.
“We needed protection from the storms. The nights got really cold. We wouldn’t let anybody in our area. One guy just ran up and tried to steal our bunks,” Dugger said.
Kim Dugger believes the ordeal was something nobody should have to go through.
She said, “In my opinion, we were sitting ducks in international waters without protection for way too long.”
While Dugger remained civil and tried to make the best of the situation, others, like the crowds camped out nearby, were not as humane.
“That was the greediest group…. People got very possessive. There was a lot of destruction and hoarding,” Dugger said.
“One man accidentally kicked an elderly woman’s cane. When he turned around, he said, ‘Old people shouldn’t be on a cruise ship.’ There were two guys at the bottom of the stairs that had a word with him.”
People stood in long lines to receive food. Hoarding was rampant. Some would take more food than they needed, let it spoil and throw it away rather than sharing with their fellow passengers.
“I stood in line for a hamburger for four hours,” Dugger said. “There was a guy with a backpack that stood in front of some kids. He took tons of hamburgers and shoved them in his bag.”
Although the experience brought out the worst in some passengers, it also showed the resilience of others.
“I’ve never been more proud of my son. He and a group went throughout the ship to find all the power cords and outlets so that people could charge their phones…. Afterward, people stood outside the ship to personally thank him.”
The ordeal also revealed Dugger’s strength. He sacrificed his health to look after his family, and keep their area clean.
Gravity worked against the stranded passengers. Pumps and plumbing were defunct. Not everyone used the restrooms at the bottom of the ship, opting to use facilities on upper decks. When the ship listed from side to side, the waste went everywhere.
“Keeping the toilet clean for my wife was my salvation. It gave me something to do. By the end of the week, I had no shame. I got very sick. Everything we touched or ate was contaminated,” Dugger said.
He was impressed with the crew members’ attitudes. Many times they would forget to eat as they checked on passengers. One night, some of the men brought out guitars and serenaded the guests who sang along.
While the experience was traumatic, Dugger realized his ability to remain calm in the midst of the storm. He formed strong bonds with others in the tent cities.
“You make friends for life when you’re in those communities. Some women were pulling down pieces of rope and making things with it and handing them out…. We made the best out of it,” he said.
When the ship was towed to port in Mobile, Ala., the crew raised the American flag. Dugger remembers his overwhelming feeling of joy. On the plane ride home, a stewardess asked him if he would like a pack of peanuts.
“I took the peanuts and just started crying. This was the first meal I had that I didn’t have to worry about it being contaminated. The stewardess came back and dumped a case of peanuts on my lap.”
Despite his ordeal, Dugger is already looking toward his next cruise.
“There are very few people who said they wouldn’t go back. I’m going back. I feel like I have to,” he said.
Dugger shared his story with fellow UMHB co-workers after he returned to campus. Many were amazed by the way he and his family conducted themselves.
“I always knew where his heart was…. I’m proud of him for making lemonade out of lemons,” physical plant secretary Sonia Mills said.
“It makes you realize what you have and to not take anything for granted,” UMHB maintenance worker Buck Wiggins said.
After the ordeal, many passengers were furious, demanding legal compensation. TheDuggers decided to stay away from lawyers and litigation.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with suing. In situations like that, if you remain calm, you will persevere.” Dugger said. “Ship happens.”