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Cruise ships chartered for hurricane refugees

Federal officials charter  three of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships for six months, part of a plan to provide shelter for as many as 7,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
File photo of Carnival Cruise Lines' \"Holiday\" cruising off Cozumel
The Carnival cruise ship Holiday, shown in this 2004 photo, is among the three vessels that have been chartered to house residents displacedy by Hurricane Katrina. The Holiday can hold 1,800 passengers, and the other two ships can take more than 2,600 passengers each.Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal officials are chartering three of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships for six months, part of a plan to provide shelter for as many as 7,000 people displaced by devastating Hurricane Katrina.

The three ships — the Ecstasy, Sensation and Holiday — will be pulled from regular use starting Monday.

Ecstasy, normally ported at Galveston for four-and five-day cruises, and Sensation, normally in New Orleans for similar trips, will both be pulled Monday and are scheduled to dock and house Katrina refugees in Galveston, Texas.

The Holiday, which normally sails four- and five-day Mexico cruises out of Mobile, Ala., will be pulled Thursday and likely docked in Mobile, Ala.

Approximately 920 crew members will staff the 70,367-gross-ton Ecstasy and Sensation, with about 660 running the 46,052-ton Holiday. The Ecstasy and Sensation can each take 2,606 total passengers, while the Holiday can hold 1,800.

"We sincerely apologize to those guests whose vacations have been impacted by these voyage cancellations," Carnival's chief executive officer, Bob Dickinson, said in a news release. "This inconvenience ... will provide desperately needed housing for thousands of individuals affected by this tragedy."

Shortly after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, federal officials asked Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, whether their ships could be used as emergency shelters.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said Saturday from Miami, where the corporation is based, that it does not disclose the price of charter contracts, and it would be difficult to tell precisely many trips will be canceled.

"I can't put a number on it, but we are displacing people to accommodate the FEMA charter," he said. "You're looking at tens of thousands."

A spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not immediately return a telephone message Saturday seeking comment.

All guests with canceled bookings will get full refunds and the opportunity to rebook on any Carnival ship with a $100-per-person shipboard credit.

Because of the deployments, the Elation, which operates seven-day cruises from Galveston, will offer a one-time six-day voyage departing Sunday, then take over the Ecstasy's four- and five-day Galveston program starting next Saturday. Guests will receive a 15 percent refund and a $50-per-person shipboard credit. The ship's five-day cruise, scheduled to leave Monday, has been canceled.