BATON ROUGE, La. -- Additional cruise ships could join Carnival Cruise Lines three vessels as temporary homes for evacuees or workers in the storm-torn and flooded Gulf Coast region.

We are still in negotiations, a spokesman from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has chartered Carnivals Sensation, Ecstasy and Holiday for Hurricane Katrina relief purposes, said last week. A former ferry, the Scotia Prince, also was chartered.

But FEMA found few takers last week among evacuees at shelters at the Houston Astrodome and nearby Reliant Arena for Carnivals two vessels in Galveston, the Sensation and the Ecstasy. And as of late last week, FEMA was planning to move both Galveston-based ships, the Sensation and the Ecstasy, into ports closer to New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss. It was undecided whether the Holiday would move from Mobile, Ala., or if more ships would join it there.

According to officials, people were unwilling to move again so quickly after being transported from places like the Superdome in New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina Houston Response office said last week that some refugees preferred to stay put while they look for family members. All of them still struggle to comprehend the dramatic changes that have occurred in less than a week, the office said.

The FEMA spokesman added the departments screening process to relocate to the ships didnt turn up enough people, and many have accepted shelter elsewhere. Some of them have decided that the cruise ships on water are too traumatic, he said. Or theyre finding family and friends and relatives, and so they dont want to leave it to go to the unknown.

But, he added, if the ships arent used for evacuees, they can be used to accommodate local emergency personnel such as firefighters or relief workers who have come in from around the country.

The cruise ships will be used, either by the evacuees, local responders, and then by the relief workers, the FEMA spokesman said.

The department, through the U.S. Navys Military Sealift Command (MSC), had originally asked for 25,000 cruise ship berths to be made available for evacuee housing, more than three times the number of berths that Carnival is providing on its three ships. FEMA has chartered the ships for a six-month period that can be extended by an additional three months, according to the request-for-proposal circulated by the MSC.

The contractual price of Carnivals three six-month charters is $192 million, according to a Carnival spokeswoman. An additional $44 million can be used for costs incurred by the line, such as fuel for the ships generators.

The contract was designed to be financially impact-neutral to the line and its parent, Carnival Corp.

The objective was to reach a contract number that results in Carnival not making any more money than we think we could have [by] keeping the ships in service in a post-Katrina environment, the spokeswoman said.

It is still unclear whether Carnivals contract will be neutral, or whether the line will see a loss or a gain on the deal. Carnival Corp. built a one- to two-cent reduction in earnings per share into its most recent financial estimate to deal with potential unknown impacts from the charter. Costs from cancelling and refunding cruises and reaccommodating travelers will impact the line by one cent per share.

As of late last week, Carnivals ships were still in Galveston, pending the finalization of plans to take them to ports closer to New Orleans and Mississippi.

And evacuees may change their mind down the road about accepting shelter onboard a cruise ship, the FEMA spokesman said.

Theyre still in shock, he said.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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