In a rare move, Carnival Cruise Lines will repay the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy for assisting two ships that were disabled by engine room fires and had to be towed to port
The decision is likely to cost Carnival about $4.2 million, although the details of the payment are not final.
Normally, the Coast Guard does not charge for rescue services. A spokesman said the costs are built into its annual budget.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) first raised the question of reimbursement after the Carnival Triumph caught fire in February. He asked the Coast Guard what it cost to help Triumph and Carnival Splendor, which had a similar fire off the western coast of Mexico in 2010.
The tab was $779,000 for the Triumph and $1.5 million for the Splendor, which also got help from a Navy aircraft carrier, which cost $1.9 million.
In an interview, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill said the company decided to honor Rockefeller's request because of the large sums involved. "In this particular situation, it was pretty extraordinary the amount of help the Coast Guard and Navy provided," he said.
Cahill said Carnival did not want the repayment to set a precedent for future ship rescues.
In response, Rockefeller said, "I'm glad to see that Carnival owned up to the bare minimum of corporate responsibility by reimbursing federal taxpayers for these two incidents."
While Carnival hopes for closure on the Triumph, Rockefeller added that he's still committed to making sure the industry pays its fair share of taxes, complies with safety standards and "holds the safety of its passengers above profits."