Update: The crippled Carnival cruise ship slowly making its way back to dry land on the southern US coast suffered another setback after a tow line snapped, setting the ship adrift temporarily.
The latest problem added to the nightmare faced by passengers on what began as a four day luxury cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.
Passengers have described overflowing toilets, sewage backed up in showers, scarce food and people getting sick, bringing the scene into sharper focus after a week at sea.
A group of disgruntled passengers spelled out "HELP" with their bodies on the deck of the ship as helicopters flew overhead.
Carnival's crippled Triumph cruise ship is set to arrive in Alabama Friday Australia time, four days after an engine room fire left more than 3100 guests stranded off the coast of Mexico.
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The ship is being towed by tugboats and is expected to reach Mobile between 9pm and 11pm local time, said Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for Miami-based Carnival, the world's largest cruise-ship operator.
The towline that broke has been reattached, he said.
Docking in Mobile won't end the ordeal for the passengers, who have complained of sickness, overflowing toilets and food shortages aboard the stricken cruise liner.
The ship still doesn't have power and has only one functioning elevator, Terry Thornton, senior vice president for marketing, said at a press conference today in Mobile. Getting all the passengers off will take as much as long as five hours, he said.
"It'll take us some time, but we do have a good plan in place and we do have a lot of people in place," Mr Thornton said.
Guests will be bused for more than two hours to hotels in New Orleans. Chartered aircraft are scheduled to fly them to Houston tomorrow, where they would again board buses for Galveston, Texas.
The Triumph left Galveston on February 7 with 1086 crew members on what was to have been a four-day voyage with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. No one was harmed in the February 10 fire, which is being investigated by the US Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board. Passengers were originally scheduled to return on February 11.
Conditions on the ship were "disgusting," Donna Gutzman, a passenger, said in a telephone interview on CNN today. "We were walking through urine."Gutzman said the situation began to improve after Coast Guard and Carnival representatives boarded the ship overnight. Pools of water in the dining room were vacuumed up, deck chairs put back in place and toilets repaired. Food options also got better.
"Now we're getting steak and lobster," she told CNN.
Mobile's airport isn't large enough to accommodate the aircraft the company will use to fly the passengers to Houston, Mr Thornton said. Guests who choose to go directly to Texas tonight will be taken by bus.
Carnival staff members have been staying in Mobile, he said.
Buddy Rice, a spokesman for the Mobile Airport Authority, said the city's two airports can handle large planes. Airport officials had discussions with airlines representing Carnival earlier in the week, and none with cruise line employees themselves, he said."We're ready to help this humanitarian effort in any we can," Rice said.
Employees of Carnival began boarding the Triumph today to assist guests in the disembarkation process, Mr Gulliksen said.A total of 14 Triumph voyages through April 13 have been canceled. Passengers will receive a full refund, credit toward future cruises and an additional $US500 in compensation.
The crippling of the Triumph is the second high-profile incident for a Carnival ship in a little more than a year.The company's Costa Concordia ran aground near the island of Giglio on January 13, 2012, hours after leaving a port near Rome with 4200 passengers and crew.
In that incident, 32 people died. Carnival shares fell 7.5 percent that month.
The Costa unit was being probed for "possible violations" of the Italian administrative responsibility law, the company said in January.
Captain Francesco Schettino is under investigation for allegedly causing the shipwreck and may face charges of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before the evacuation was completed. He denies any wrongdoing.