How the AP Scored Its Stranded Carnival Cruise Shots

When the Carnival Splendor cruise ship and its 4,500 passengers became stranded off the Mexican coast last week after a major fire, it became huge news around the world. Especially, oddly, that the passengers were served SPAM to eat. But way before all that SPAM talk, AP photographer Greg Bull was first to the scene, capturing both photos and videos of the smoking ship. No small task. How did he do it? This staff memo from AP Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes explains:


The story was literally out of reach. An engine fire had left the cruise ship Carnival Splendor and its 4,500 passengers and crew marooned at sea. There was no e-mail or cell phone contact, and even when San Diego photographer Greg Bull managed to get within range, it was a challenge to get his material out.

His persistence and ingenuity produced exclusive video, a beat on still photos and the Beat of the Week.

When Bull heard that the aircraft carrier USS Reagan would be airlifting aid as the stricken liner was towed to San Diego, he headed to the base and tried to talk his way on board.

He shot images of cases of spam being loaded onto helicopters, and, once on board, made more photos and several minutes of video.

Bull called in color and first-person detail to the news desk, but filing the photos and video proved more difficult. The Navy’s e-mail system would allow only 5 megabytes of data at a time, and Bull spent eight hours just editing and filing to get around that size limit.

He filed 15 photos, all of which made it through, beating photographers from Zuma and the Los Angeles Times by 20 minutes and topping websites for the next 12 hours.

Video was the hardest part.

First, Bull unfurled his satphone on the carrier’s deck, but with the ship rocking side to side and constantly changing direction he couldn’t keep the device locked on a satellite long enough to maintain a call.

He turned back to e-mail, but the video was 56 megabytes, 10 times too big for the e-mail system.

He set to work cutting the video into the smallest possible pieces, 10 clips of about 9 seconds each. After several tries, four of them made it through, and the Broadcast News Center in Washington edited them into video packages for OLV and APTN through the night.

Neither the Zuma nor LA Times photographers shot video … and a CNN crew watched helplessly next to Bull as they were unable to get any of their own video out.

Bull slept for two hours and started again. When the ship docked the next day, he fed the rest of his video.

For his industrious efforts to take the lead on a technically and logistically difficult story, Bull wins this week’s $500 prize.

Mike Oreskes

Senior Managing Editor

Nice work Mr. Bull. And way to get that SPAM storyline started too.