MIAMI -- Carnival Cruise Lines ships currently housing Hurricane Katrina refugees will leave New Orleans March 1, marking the end of Carnivals six-month contract with Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Carnival chartered the ships back in September to FEMA for $192 million, plus $44 million in reimbursement for lost revenues.

FEMA said Feb. 24 that these ships completed their vital mission and that the agency requested bids from other commercial shipping companies to provide emergency housing from March 1 and beyond.

Carnival said the ships -- the Sensation, the Holiday and the Ecstasy -- will be refurbished and will reenter service by late March or early April.

The Government Accountability Office and the Homeland Security Dept. reported earlier this month that the use of cruise ships to house refugees was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal account of the governments spending of Katrina disaster aid.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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