Opinion Piece: Don't Join Our Organization This Summer

Don’t Join Our Organization This Summer, by Kendall Carver

More than 10 million Americans will set sail on a cruise vacation in 2016. Many of these travelers will book their trips through U.S.-based travel companies—expecting not only top-notch service, but also safety and accountability in the event of an emergency.

Yet American travelers aren’t guaranteed either: The cruise industry routinely circumvents basic safety Merrian  Carver - International Cruise Victimsprocedures for expediency’s sake, prioritizing profits over people.

I know firsthand. My daughter, Merrian, disappeared from a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska in 2004, yet cruise officials acted like nothing had happened. Merrian’s steward aboard the vessel reported her missing for five days to his supervisor, but was told to “just do your job and forget it.”

That’s right: Royal Caribbean made no attempt to contact either the authorities or Merrian’s family when she turned up missing and had not used her room. Once the cruise line was contacted about Merrian’s disappearance, it took Royal Caribbean three days to confirm that she had even been on the cruise first place. Confirming that Merriam didn’t use her room after the second night onboard took even longer. By then, the trail had gone cold. Requests for interviews by the private investigator hired by our family, were denied, as was access to the ship's video camera system. Cruise officials even limited the amount of time that he could spend on the ship.

Our persistence in the face of negligence revealed a shocking detail: My daughter had been reported missing daily for the last five days of the cruise and nothing was done to search for her. More than a decade later, I still do not know how she died.

Unfortunately, my tragic story is not uncommon. The family of Larry and Christy Hammer—two Americans who lost their lives aboard the Amazon River boat Estrella Amazonica in April—are similarly grasping for answers. Theirs is the most recent demonstration of the cruise industry’s shocking disregard for passengers.

According to reports provided to us by the family, the Hammers were killed by a fire in their cabin. There were smoke detectors but no alarms in the cabins onboard the Estrella Amazonica—a boat proudly designed, built, and co-owned by the U.S.-based travel company International Expeditions Larry and Christy Hammer - International Expeditions (IE), according to the firm’s website. With no alarm to awaken them, the Hammers were overwhelmed as they struggled through the poisonous gases flooding their room. It took the crew more than 20 minutes to extract the Hammers from their burning cabin.

Similar to my family’s quest for answers, the Hammer family has resorted to independent investigators. The likely fire source was a power strip supplied by the boat—which lacked both surge protection and safety and flammability ratings. The fire alarm system and crew’s response to the emergency is also in question.

International Expeditions continues to deny the Hammer family’s pleas for information. Immediately following the incident, Van Perry, IE’s president, rushed to Peru to monitor the ship inspection. Within three days, he declared the ship “cleared as safe for travel” and personally re-boarded passengers onto the boat. When the Hammer family asked Mr. Perry for the supporting basis of his statements, he deflected and refused to provide information. Through interviews with independent investigators, the Hammer family was shocked to later learn that local authorities denied clearing the vessel as safe or having identified the source of the fire.

American travelers who put their trust in travel companies like Royal Caribbean and International Expeditions should tread carefully. Just because they’re based in the United States doesn’t ensure Ken Carver - International Cruise Victimspassenger safety or accountability when tragedy strikes.

To confront the cruise industry’s recurring problem of neglect and indifference, victims’ families organized the International Cruise Victims Association. Members’ tragic stories, posted to the organization’s website, attest to a devastating pattern.

My parting words are “be careful”—or else our organization becomes yours.

Kendall Carver is the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association.

You can read about the Royal Caribbean cover up of Merrian Carver's disappearance here

Photo Credit:

Merrian Carver (top) and Ken Carver - Ken Carver

Larry and Christy Hammer - Kelly Lankford & Jill Malott via KSHB
 

Horizon Runs Aground in Norway

The Horizon cruise ship ran aground today in Stavanger, Norway.  The Stavanager Aftonblad newspaper reports that the cruise ship became stuck after sailing into the sandbanks near the Norwegian port. Tugs were sent to the scene and and pushed the ship safely into the dock.

The Horizon is owned by Croisieres de France, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean. 

Photo Credit: Anders Heskja Sandvik via Stavanger Aftenblad.

Horizon

Thomson Celebration Suffers Engine Failure in Malta

Thomson Celebration The Thomson Celebration suffered an engine failure as the cruise ship was leaving Grand Harbor in Valletta, Malta on Saturday, according to the Times of Malta.  

The Maltese newspaper states that the cruise ship "drifted for around 100 metres before the captain was forced to drop anchor in order to avoid hitting the breakwater."  This is a rather concerning scenario. I last saw the Thomson Celebration in Venice in May (photo above) while it was proceeding along the Canale della Giudecca. Without the assistance of tugs, power loss of this type could easily cause substantial damage to adjacent shore-side structures and/or the ship itself.

The Thomson Celebration reportedly blocked the Valletta harbor's entrance for about an hour, according to the newspaper (photo below). "Two tug boats helped secure the ship in order to stop it moving around with the currents." Assisted by tugs, the Thomson Celebration left the harbor once power was restored and sailed on its planned itinerary.   

The Thomson Celebration is a 32 year-old ship built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in 1984 for Holland America Line (HAL) as the MS Noordam. The cruise ship is still owned by HAL, under long-term charter to the United Kingdom-based Thomson Cruises. 

Photo Credit: Rene Rossignaud via Times of Malta

Celebration Malta Photo: Rene Rossignaud

Coast Guard Medevacs Two Passengers From Norwegian Gem

The U.S. Coast Guard medevaced two cruise ship passengers from NCL's Norwegian Gem today. The NCL cruise ship was off the Virginia coast at the time of the rescue.

The Norwegian Gem notified the Coast Guard shortly after 2:00 a.m. that two men had experienced unspecified medical complications when the ship was approximately 75 miles northeast of Cape Henry.

A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a C-130 Hercules aircraft crew launched from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The helicopter arrived at the Norwegian Gem when the cruise ship was about 60 miles east of Wachapreague Inlet, and hoisted both men aboard shortly after 5:00 a.m.

Both men were flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk.

Earlier today, we reported on a Coast Guard medevac from the same Coast Guard air station yesterday when a 19 year old passenger was rescued from the Norwegian Breakaway when it was 230 miles from the coast of North Carolina.

Story Credit: Delmarva Now

Video Credit:  Defense Video Imagery Distribution System

 

Coast Guard Medevacs Passenger from NCL's Norwegian Breakaway

NCL Norwegian BreakawayThe U.S. Coast Guard medevaced a nineteen year old cruise ship passenger, yesterday, from NCL's Norwegian Breakaway.  The cruise passengers was reportedly experiencing severe stomach pain.

The Norwegian Breakaway alerted the Coast Guard yesterday morning that the passenger needed medical treatment when the ship was approximately 400 miles off the North Carolina coast while the ship was returning to New York City.

 A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a C-130 Hercules aircraft crew left from Elizabeth City, North Carolina yesterday afternoon. The helicopter arrived at the cruise ship when it was approximately  230 miles northeast of Elizabeth City, at around 5:42 p.m. and medevaced the woman around 6:10 p.m.

The passenger was flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk.

Video credit: Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.

 Story Credit: WTKR 3 

Disney to Develop Egg Island in the Bahamas?

Earlier this week, I received information that Disney Cruises is apparently moving ahead with preliminary plans to build a cruise ship pier on an island in north Eleuthera in the Bahamas, called Egg Island.

Disney already has one private cay in the Bahamas where it unloads thousands of cruise tourists (photo bottom).  

A poster to the Disney Vacation Club reportedly observed and spoke to surveyors were on the Bahamian island who told him they were working for Disney. A contractor has also apparently been Egg Island Bahamasdrilling core samples around the island, presumably to evaluate the foundation for structures Disney may build (photo right).

Some of the information which I received suggests that Egg Island's natural beauty and ecology will be destroyed if Disney proceeds with its plans to develop the island. "Egg Island boasts several ecosystems including mangroves, coral reefs, (and) salt ponds . . . Egg island is known for having a sustainable grouper spawning aggregation, of which there are few left in the Bahamas. The endangered sea turtles are well known to nest on egg island beach, endangered shore birds nest there and the juvenile conch are maturing in safety."

The waste of thousands of cruise tourists can't be accomodated on the little island, as explained by a local Bahamian newspaper.

The Miami Herald recently published an article titled Disney Plan to Develop Unspoiled Bahamian Island Draws Fire which confirmed "that the government issued a temporary license for exploratory work to (the) Disney contractor."

There is an online change.org petition titled Save Egg Island (Bahamas)! Stop Disney Cruise Line! Preserve Egg Island! #saveeggisland.  

I have visited nearby Spanish Wells a number of times in the 1980's. I still remember the beautiful reefs and untouched beaches there.  It would be a shame to see another natural island in the Castaway Cay BahamasCaribbean to be dredged and filled to make way for another cruise development.

The Tribune newspaper confirmed that "preliminary talks" have taken place between Disney and local Bahamian representatives. Prime Minister Perry Christie claims that impact assessment studies must first be considered before any plans are approved.  But one needs to look no further than prior projects permitted by Bahamian politicians to be skeptical.

Bimini sustained considerable environmental damage brought about by dredge and fill operations associated with the Resorts World and Bimini SuperFast projects.  Environmental damage, dislocation of native wildlife and reef destruction brought about by cruise development is often an afterthought to the Bahamian politicians and cruise line executives if there is money to be made.   

There is a Save Egg Island Facebook page trying to raise awareness of what has been, to date, largely secret development plans by Disney regarding the pristine Egg Island.  

Photo Credit:  Save Egg Island Facebook page

Video credit: Watch video of Egg Island  - Via Tre' Russell

July 22 2016 Update:  According to the Disney Cruise Line Blog, "Egg Island appears to saved. Multiple newspaper reports from the Bahamas confirm that Disney Cruise Line will no longer consider developing Egg Island, Eleuthera into a cruise port due to the initial test results. Kim Prunty, a spokesperson for DCL confirmed to The Tribune that environmental impact assessments and geo-technical studies carried out by the company have indicated that the quitting island’s marine and environmental profile could not survive a development on that level." 

The Nassau Guardian states that Disney is not developing the island after conducting an environmental assessment, 

The Miami Herald published Disney Backs Off Cruise Port on Pristine Bahamas Island.

Rescue Boat Accident on Norwegian Breakaway Injures Four

Norwegian Breakaway Rescue Boat AccidentA number of newspapers in Bermuda are reporting that four people were injured when a lifeboat fell from the Norwegian Breakaway while the cruise ship was docked at port today.

The Royal Gazette says that one of the crew members is in critical condition at the hospital. This newspaper reports that a lifeboat had fallen from the cruise ship and "was left hanging from one wire resulting in four people falling into the water."

Bernews reports that NCL released a statement, saying that "on July 20 while Norwegian Breakaway was alongside in Bermuda, an incident occurred involving the ship’s rescue boat during a routine drill, affecting four crew members."

Bernews clarifies that a "rescue boat," as opposed to a lifeboat, was involved in the mishap.  A video shows what this newspaper says is a rescue boat flipped upside down in the water with its hull partially showing. 

I first became aware of the accident when PTZtv, which operates the webcam for this port, tweeted observing an unusually large EMS & police response to an incident at the port. 

A year ago, two NCL crew members were injured when a rescue boat from the Pride of American fell after cables broke while the cruise ship was in Hilo.   

Lifeboats accidents are not uncommon. In January of this year, a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill while the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira. Fortunately, no one was injured. In August 2015, an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea apparently broke a cable while it was being lowered in Montenegro. Photographs sent to me shows what appears to be a lifeboat dangling on the side of the Costa cruise ship.  In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed. In February 2013, 8 crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water when it was being lifted in violation of a new CLIA safety protocol. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed. 3 were injured. It was caused by a broken cable (photograph here).

Update:  One crew member injured in the accident has reportedly died, according to NCL.

Video and photo credit: Bernews

 

Empress of the Seas Flunks CDC Sanitation Inspection

Empress of the SeasAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas flunked a surprise sanitation inspection conducted in early June. The Empress of the Seas scored a failing score of only 80.  You can read the report here. A score of 85 or lower is considered a failure.

The Empress of the Seas underwent an extended period of renovations in Spain and later in Freeport, Bahamas when the ship was transferred back from Pullmantur. Royal Caribbean canceled a total of thirteen cruises scheduled for earlier this year. The first sanitation violation related to the renovation and involved a bathroom for the medical staff which could be used only for storage and was "heavily soiled." Back in April of this year, Royal Caribbean told the Miami Herald that “as work has progressed, we learned that more significant infrastructure and physical improvements across the ship’s multiple galleys and provisioning areas were needed to meet our high standards.”

I was contacted previously by crew members, during the renovation period, who complained  of unsanitary conditions on the ship. There was talk that the CDC had inspected the ship and initially had not given the ship a passing score, although there was nothing officially posted on the CDC website. Several crew members said that the ship had fallen substantially in disrepair while operated by Pullmantur and had a major problem with pests.    

It is apparent, however, that once back in the Royal Caribbean fleet, the Empress failed to meet high standards. The report regarding the June inspection details forty four CDC violations, ranging from improper procedures to monitor acute gastrointestinal illness cases to incorrect potable water and swimming pool/whirlpool testing.   

The report included numerous references to live and dead flies and cockroaches around refrigerators, buffet lines and other areas used for food storage. The ships was also in violation of the CDC's requirement to use rat guards, and was utilizing rat guards on only one out of six mooring lines while the ship was in port.

A crew member states that the Empress was reinspected earlier this month, on July 10th, and received a score of 97.  If such an inspection took place, the CDC has not posted that inspection yet.  

Royal Caribbean, including its Celebrity brand, has failed other inspections in the past.  In 2013, the Celebrity Century scored only a 78.  The same year, the Celebrity Summit scored only a 81. The Monarch of the Seas scored a 85 in 2011. 

Two years ago, Market Watch published the 5 Most Hygienic Cruise Lines and concluded that Costa and Disney and three other smaller lines had never failed a CDC inspection. Since then, the Disney Wonder experienced a gastrointestinal outbreak in April of this year.    

We last mentioned the Empress of the Seas three weeks ago when it experienced problems with one of its engines, causing Royal Caribbean to alter the cruise ship's itinerary.

Photo Credit: By Jsausley - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

HAL's Upgraded Cabin From Hell

A couple on a cruise spent a little extra for the proverbial room-with-a-view only to find that HAL had a little surprise - it didn't tell them beforehand about a crew member using a grinding tool outside their cabin's window. 

The YouTube caption says: "Thanks for telling us when you upcharged us $600 extra for the window guys."

There are over a thousand comments to the video on Nate Zemanek's YouTube page. 

Video Credit: Nate Zemanek

Hat Tip: Nine News Australia 

July 18 2016 Upgrade:  Seems that the couple were on their honeymoon.  According to UPROXX, when they complained, HAL didn't seem to care and told them that the maintenance work on the lifeboats would continue, from 9-5 daily, for the rest of the cruise.  Later, after the issue went viral on Reddit and on YouTube, HAL refunded the $600 and gave them a free dinner.

 

Aqua Amazon Explodes & Sinks in Amazon, Four Crew Members Missing

Aqua Amazon ExplosionThe Amazon River cruise ship Aqua Amazon reportedly exploded and partially sank yesterday, according to a press statement released by the founder and CEO. Francesco Galli Zugaro, of Aqua Expeditions.

Mr. Zugaro offered no explanation regarding why the river cruise boat exploded. The press statement says that the incident occurred "during the regular Saturday supplying and turn-around hours for re-stocking of the vessel."

Mr. Zugaro also did not disclose the number of crew members who were were reportedly injured but did state that four crew members are missing. No passengers were on the ship at the time of the explosion.

Daniel Carbajal of the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio took photos of the burned river boat (left and below). He reports that the explosion occurred during a fueling operation due to a "short circuit" leading to two explosions and a fire, resulting in 13 crew members of the ship being injured. The incident occurred "in the port of Enapu, located along the Itaya River, Punchana district in Iquitos (Loreto)." The explosion reportedly blew a hole in the ship and it partially sank on its side.

The Peruvian newspaper also states that "the first police investigations reveal that aquatic ship arrived Aqua Amazon Explosionto the port to fill the gas tank without any security measures. The incident caused burns to 8 people, who had to jump into the flowing and being rescued by residents and staff Enapu who was nearby . . . It is presumed that some people were trapped inside the ship."

The news report further states that 'the search was called off at nightfall due to lack of equipment necessary for the work."

River cruises on the Amazon have been in the news lately. Armed bandits robbed passengers aboard the Amazon Discovery last week. In April, a deadly fire aboard the La Estrella Amazonica resulted in the death of two American passengers. The media downplayed this latest robbery on the Peruvian Amazon which comes after a number of recent incidents as well as similar robberies dating back of the course of many years. It was widely reported that the 8 armed bandits robbed the passengers of a total $20,000.  We have been contacted by a number of passengers one of who states that some of the passengers were physically assaulted. One passenger left a comment indicating that the "the truth is each of the 30 passengers lost about $20,000." We are told that the Amazon Discovery had no security personnel aboard the river cruise boat at the time of the attack. 

Photo Credit: Daniel Carbajal of El Comercio

Update: ENCA reports that "one cruise-ship employee reported that the explosion may have been sparked by crews doing welding work."

July 19 2016 Update:  Jill Hammer Malott, one of the daughters of Drs. Larry and Christy Hammer, writes about the troubling trend on the Peruvian Amazon River. Her comments follow the Aqua Amazon’s sinking on Saturday and the robbery aboard the Amazon Discovery one day earlier. These two incidents come on the heels of the tragedy aboard International Expeditions’ La Estrella Amazonica in early April, when her parents - Drs. Larry and Christy Hammer - died in a cabin fire (see comments in article) that started through no fault of their own.

“Between robberies and deadly fires, a string of recent tragedies on the Peruvian Amazon is a sad reminder that many cruise companies—including those based in the United States—cut corners on basic safety and security measures, routinely risking the lives of passengers and crew alike. My parents died aboard La Estrella Amazonica in April, after a fire erupted in their cabin through no fault of their own. My family has seen first-hand how the absence of things like in-room fire alarms, flammability-rated power strips, and a well-trained crew can have fatal consequences. We’ve also experienced how hard cruise companies—in our case, International Expeditions, an eco-tourism company based in Alabama—work to brush these incidents under the rug in an effort to mitigate public relations damage. It is our fervent hope that more accountability is demanded of the cruise industry operating in the Amazon in the wake of these tragedies.”

July 18 2016 Update:  

Peru This Week reports that the crew casualties are up to 7 dead and 13 seriously burned.  The article says that ""although the causes of the accident are still being investigated, police officials have indications that a short circuit may have caused the explosion . . .

While the company Aqua Expeditions recognizes that the accident happened during the refueling of the ship, they’ve said that it was done properly, following all the safety guidelines.

However, police sources indicate that the vessel did not comply with all the safety measure required during fueling. The harbormaster would not comment until the completed their investigation."

International Business Times (IBT) posted a video of the aftermath of the explosion and fire (below): 

Fire, Bandits Plague Amazon River Cruises in Peru

Amazon RiverTwo articles published yesterday bring attention to the dangers of cruising in Peru.    

Bandits Attack Amazon Tourist Boat of Foreigners in Peru, published by The Hour, contains a report by the Associated Press stating that "... bandits have attacked an Amazon tourist boat and robbed more than two dozen tourists from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand . . . the attackers used a small craft to reach the Amazon Discovery tour cruise, boarded it and then robbed passengers and crew of goods worth about $20,000 early Thursday. The tourists included 21 Americans, six Australians and two from New Zealand. There were also 25 Peruvians working aboard."

The Amazon Discovery is a new luxury vessel, built in 2015, with a length of 169 feet and a capacity of 44 guests (22 suites) and 29 crew members. The river cruise ship is advertised on a number of travel websites and by marketing companies promoting Amazon River cruises from Iquitos, Peru. 

According to a Travel Weekly article last April, Peruvian company Delfin Amazon Cruises has owned and operated the vessel since it launched in October 2015, although river cruise operator Haimark Travel had previously been handling all marketing and sales efforts.

Armed bandits boarding Amazon cruises are not unheard of.  According to a 2014 New York Times article, "In 2009, the luxury Aqua Expeditions cruise ship had been boarded by armed pirates, who robbed the passengers of cameras, cash and jewelry. Ever since then, the Aqua and its sister ship, the Aria, have been accompanied by three armed guards, part of a Peruvian river protection strategy that includes a green speedboat marked Policia de Tourismo that follows the ship. So far, there have been no other incidents."

A British newspaper reported shortly after the 2009 attacks that "two police were stationed on the ship after the first raid but they were overpowered during the second attack by nine armed bandits. The raiders then reportedly bound the hands and feet of 20 tourists . . . before fleeing amid a shoot-out with police reinforcements." 

Travel Weekly reported on these two attacks - Peru Steps Up Security After Two Amazon River Ship Attacks.

Judge Thomas Dickerson mentions these dangerous incidents on the Peruvian Amazon River in his treatise Travel Law: Avoid Dangerous Vacations 2014.

Marketers of Amazon River cruises seemed to downplay the crimes at the time.  The Travel Weekly article quotes Maggie Smith, the president of International Expeditions at the time, saying "in over 30 years of operating in the Peruvian Amazon, taking about 30,000 guests there, we have never had such an incident."

One site reporting on the recent armed robbery said that "8 assailants were armed with large-caliber Amazon River Peruweapons took control of the ship, which belongs to Delfin Amazon Cruises, for about 30 minutes and took personal possessions and money worth around 20,000 U.S. dollar." The site reports that the captain of the ship suffered a head injury by being pistol-whipped. The report continued: "the Peruvian Amazon has seen such assaults periodically as pirates profit from the distance from population centers to attack cruise ships on the Amazon's riverways."

Another site, Peru This Week, says that the attack occurred at 3 a.m. near the Huaysi village (about an hour from the village of Tamshiyacu, in the Fernando Lores District of the Maynas province). According to the head of the Iquitos Port Authority, commander Oscar Garrido Lecca, river assaults are supposedly "rare;" he states that "they haven’t experienced one in four to five months." (this hardly hardly seems rare).  The site says that the "last cruise ship assault was reported back in May of 2014," but the article provides no details.

One of the travel sites, Rainforest Cruises, which markets the Amazon Discovery and other river cruises ships (there's no indication that this site sold any cruises to the victimized passengers in question) contains an  Amazon Cruise Safety Guide which states in part:

"You may also notice on your cruise through the Amazon River that some boats are occupied by armed guards. Some of these vessels may also have guards dressed in civilian clothes, such as the Aqua, Aria and Delfins and you may see  others with police protection on board, the Aqua and Aria. This is in reaction to two incidents that took place on Aqua Expeditions ships, when armed bandits stormed the ship and robbed passengers on board. As a result Aqua and many other cruise companies on the Amazon River have increased their security measures to prevent such attacks."

None of the articles which I read about the armed attack mention whether the ship had guards at the time of the attack.  It will be interesting to find out whether the operator was trying to save money by cruising without security.

A second article published today involves a different type of danger which passengers might face while cruising on the Amazon River in Peru. A Personal Warning To American Travelers, published by the Daily Caller, was written by Jill Hammer Malott and Kelly Hammer Lankford, the daughters of  Larry and Christy Hammer who died in a fire during an Amazon River cruise aboard La Estrella Amazonica, marketed and reportedly “design[ed] and “buil[t]” by the U.S.-based International Expeditions (IE).

The daughters write that in April, their parents went on "a week-long Amazon River cruise aboard International Expeditions (IE) boat, La Estrella Amazonica." Their parents chose this voyage because, as the daughters say, IE boasted that "with International Expeditions at the helm, you’ll adventure in safety and comfort aboard La Estrella Amazonica."

But "around 2 am on the first night of the cruise, they found themselves trapped inside their burning cabin Mammer Familywhile their lungs filled with poisonous smoke. Our father died before the crew even tried to get him out. Our mother held onto a heartbeat when the crew finally pulled her from the cabin, but died sometime later — we still cannot get information on when or where she passed away."

The Hammer sisters indicate that a "power strip supplied by the boat caught fire. Analysis of the same model power strip revealed that it lacks surge protection and safety ratings. The mattress and bedding provided abundant fuel for the fire. No alarm sounded in the cabin because the smoke detectors lack in-cabin alarms which could have alerted our parents before the smoke overwhelmed them."

The sisters are critical of the crew's apparent lack of training and preparedness, indicating that "the crew wasted more than 20 precious minutes between the time when smoke seeped into the hallway to when they finally extracted our parents."

The ship was flagged in Peru, which may explain why it was sailing without functioning fire alarms, or an operable fire suppression system. 

The daughters feel that IE’s president, Van Perry, stonewalled the family and reportedly refused to provide them with information. According to a travel publication, Mr. Perry quickly announced that local fire authorities and tourism authorities in Peru "cleared the vessel safe to carry guests."  Within three days of the Hammers' death, and without even determining the official cause of the deadly fire, La Estrella Amazonica continued on its cruise.  

Photo Credits:  Hammer family (bottom): Jill Hammer via Opinion; Map of Peru - BBC (middle); Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru - By M M from Switzerland - Amazonas, Iquitos - Leticia, Kolumbien, CC BY-SA 2.0

Update: According to Travel Pulse, Delfin Amazon Cruises denied knowledge of previous robberies of river ships on the Amazon in Peru in its official statement about this incident.

“The safety of guests aboard the ship is of utmost importance to Delfin Amazon Cruises, which owns and operates Amazon Discovery. This isolated incident — the first in the company’s ten years of cruising the Amazon — is not reflective of the Amazon region today, which continues to be an increasingly desirable destination for visitors.

Staff onboard the Amazon Discovery and at its Lima headquarters have further advanced measures to ensure the safety of its current and future passengers. The company is implementing a Peruvian river cruising protection strategy that includes the presence of permanent surveillance staff onboard. The vessel will also be accompanied by further security in a green speedboat marked Policia de Turismo.”

Of course, Delfin Amazon Cruises was aware of the prior attacks in 2009. Travel Weekly says in the 2009 article Peru Steps Up Security After Two Amazon River Ship Attacks: "And Delfin Amazon Cruises operates two luxury ships, the 12-passenger Delfin I and the 28-passenger Delfin II. These operators, too, are keeping a close watch on the security situation in the region."  

UpdatePeru Reports published an interesting article this evening referring to 4 prior attacks in the last year alone on river cruise ships in the Amazon in Peru, and stating in part:

"This high-profile attack has raised questions about crime and passenger security on the rivers of the Amazon jungle. Oscar Garrido, captain of the Iquitos port police, told El Comercio that he had recently Defin Amazon Discovery Pirate Attackmet with representatives from the tourist agencies which offer cruises of the Amazon, Ucayali and Marañon rivers.

“We asked them to hire armed security guards and that they activate their GPS systems,” Garrido said. “We cannot accompany all [passenger boats] along the route because we have more than 6,000 miles of jungle to take care of.”

Garrido added that the Iquitos coast guard has 27 boats to patrol more than 6,000 miles of rivers, where more than 9,000 boats circulate in the jungles of Loreto. He said that all boats should be equipped with cameras and satellite phones for the vast areas which receive no regular phone signal. The Amazon Discovery was equipped with cameras, and the video of Thursday’s assault is being analyzed by police.

Thursday’s riverboat assault is at least the fourth incident in the last year.

An armed gang dressed in military uniform and ski masks assaulted a tourist boat near the Pacaya Samiria reserve in December, stealing over $6,000 in merchandise. In October, an armed holdup of a tourist boat on the Ucayali River left four crew members injured with gunshot wounds. In April 2015, five armed men robbed 15 foreign tourists on the Nanay River."

Photo Credit:  Peru 21

Update: The Chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association, Ken Carver, comments on the deadly La Estrella Amazonica debacle.

UpDate: Crime Insight published an article - Peru River Pirates Raid Tourist Cruise on the Amazon - "highlights the potential dangers associated with adventure tours in insecure countries."

"The last major assault of this kind occurred in October 2014 on the boat Golfinoh as it traveled the same route to Iquitos. A police officer who happened to be on the boat tried to ward off the attack. The officer and one assailant were killed and seven passengers were wounded, La Prensa.Pe reported. Only minor assaults had been reported since then.

Nevertheless, incidents involving river pirates have been reported in other parts of South America. In May 2016, a ferry traveling on the Solimoes River in the State of Amazonas, Brazil, was attacked by three armed men. The assailants used a speed boat to intercept the ferry and stormed the vessel at about midnight. Again, the attackers wore masks and carried assault rifles and pistols. They stole $2,600, several mobile phones and they stripped equipment from a vehicle being transported by the ferry.

Another incident of river piracy was reported in May 2016 in the city of Barcarena, near Brazil's northern Atlantic coast. Tourists were robbed by 10 heavily armed men who stormed their vessel, but no one was injured or killed.

Although they have all been relatively small-scale events, the assaults highlight insecurity in these remote areas, which are often centers of illegal activity like informal mining and drug trafficking or production."

July 17 2016 Update: More trouble for river cruises on the Amazon.  Aqua Amazon Explodes & Sinks in Amazon, Four Crew Members Missing.

Faroe Island's Bloody Fjords

Today, the German newspaper Deutsche Welle published an article Faroe Islands: Cruise Boycott Hits Tourism

The article explains that two German cruise lines, AIDA and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, "have agreed no longer to feature the Faroe Islands. The move comes in response to pressure from animal rights groups to boycott the country over the mass slaughter of whales."

The article cites the efforts of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Forum (Wal- und Delfinschutz-Forum - WDSF) which brought about the change.  The conservation forum is now concentrating Faroe Islands Whale Slaughterits efforts to stop the horrific slaughter of pilot whales by focusing on another German cruise line, TUI, which is still cruising to the Faroe Islands.

I recently wrote about this gruesome, bloody so-called tradition where locals use powerboats to chase frightened whales into a harbor where they are met by locals with knives while their family members cheer them on in what appears like a cruel and bloody sport from hell. The locals rip out baby whales from their mothers in this monstrous, brutal slaughter.

Our article last week, Cruise Lines Continue to Support Mass Murder of Whales in Faroe Islands, was viewed several hundred thousand times with over 5,8000 Facebook "likes," for what that's worth, (as well as numerous hate-emails from residents of the Faroe Islands and Denmark).  

Aside from AIDA and Hapag-Lloyd, and Disney Cruises which took the Faroes off its proposed itinerary last year, most cruise lines still visit the Faroes Islands.  

TUI's Mein Shiff 4, owned by parent companies Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. & TUI AG, will call there next week.

The U.S. State Department says that the standard of living in the Faroe Islands for the total population Mein Schiff 4(about 48,000) is "high" by world standards.

The Faroese economy has revolved primarily around the fishery industry, accounting for about 95% of its exports of a little over one billions dollars a year.

The Faroes appear susceptible to a boycott.

In July 2013, the EU imposed sanctions on the Faroe Islands due to a dispute over the fishing quota of herring and mackerel. The boycott which started in August 2013 banned Faroese vessels carrying herring or mackerel from all EU ports, including Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The Faroe Islands could no longer export herring or mackerel to EU countries. The boycott was successful and ended a year later, in August of 2014

To achieve an effective boycott, we recommend taking three steps:

  1. Don't buy any fish products, such as salmon, from the Faroe Islands. Tell your local supermarket, fish store or sushi restaurant to stop buying fish from the Faroe Islands.
  2. Don't travel to the Faroe Islands; tell your travel agents to cross the Faroe Islands off your travel itinerary.
  3. Don't cruise to the Faroe Islands or support cruise lines that do; contact your favorite cruise line and tell them to stop calling on the Faroe Islands.     

TUI, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean and TUI AG, claims that it "condemns the practice of whaling," but it will send the Mein Schiff 4 to Thorshavn, Faroe Islands and spend the day there on July 20th.

It is talking out of both sides of its mouth by still supporting the Faroes' inhumane whale slaughter.

If you are in the U.S. contact Royal Caribbean, or in Germany contact TUI, and tell them that you oppose the killing of whales and won't cruise with them until they drop the Faroe Islands from their itineraries.   

Photo Credit: Grind slaughter (2015) - Twitter #OpKillingBay; Mein Schiff 4 - By HenSti CC BY-SA 4.0.

Video Credit: Sea Shepherd 

U.S. Embassy Issues Warning About Crime in Nassau

Today, the United States embassy in Nassau issues a "Personal Security Awareness" security message about the crime problem in Nassau. The message says: 

"This message is to remind U.S. Citizens resident and visiting New Providence Island (Nassau) and Paradise Island to be mindful of their surroundings at all times and employ practical personal security awareness when in public and at home to avoid being a victim of crime.

Over the course of the past six months, the U.S. Embassy has received reports of a significant Nassau Bahamas Crimeincrease in armed robberies throughout New Providence, specifically targeting patrons of ATM machines, parking venues at various retail locations, and armed car-jackings.

For your safety, you should:

• Avoid using ATM machines located in isolated areas and consider using ATM machines located in shopping centers that have security coverage. Use the buddy system when using ATM machines.

• Keep your car doors locked and your windows rolled up as you drive. Keep valuables out of sight in your vehicles when parked (cell phones, laptops, cash, GPS or other valuables).

Armed robberies and violent crimes continue to be the primary criminal threat in The Bahamas – which in many instances have occurred in areas frequented by tourists."

There have been over a dozen crime warnings from the U.S. about Nassau, Bahamas in the last several years, from the U.S. embassy in Nassau and the U.S. State Department. The last warning was released just two months ago - Crime in Bahamas Remains Critical. In January of this year, the U.S. embassy in Nassau reported that jet ski operators sexually assaulted 5 U.S. tourists in just 18 months.

When I first started this blog in 2009, several of the first articles were about the armed robbery of cruise ship passengers in Nassau. In October 2009, the Tribune newspaper in Nassau reported that two "vicious robbers" held a group of 11 terrified cruise tourists at gunpoint and robbed them of cash and their possessions at the Queen's Staircase on a Sunday afternoon.  A month later, gunmen armed with a shotgun robbed and terrorized 18 Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise passengers on a Segway Tour. 

None of the gunmen were ever arrested. A cruise passengers said that the Bahamian police falsely told her after she was robbed that "this never happens here. Never." It seems that it has been downhill in Nassau ever since. 

Nassau has received, by far, the most critical crime warnings of any port in the Caribbean. Nassau has an ineffective police force and a broken legal system.  It is the one port which I say avoid at all costs.

July 13 2016 Update:  Is the Bahamas travel advisory a tit-for-a-tat for prior U.S. travel warnings? Is this U.S. security message retaliation for the travel advisory issued by the Bahamas?  Read:  Bahamas Wrong To Issue Travel Advisory To Black Men and U.S. Hits Back With Security Message To Citizens And Visitors In The Bahamas.

July 14 2016 Update: National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage insists that the U.S. embassy is “wrong” and the assertions made in their latest crime advisory regarding the Bahamas are “not true. Unfortunately, we have seen these type of denials by the authorities in Nassau as long as we have had this blog. Meanwhile, the Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis says Prime Minister Perry Christie and his administration have ignored the reality of crime. Dr Minnis says it is “frightening” for Bahamians to see the government continuously dismiss the crime warnings.

Photo Credit:  242 Breaking News 

Backatcha' - Bahamas Warns Travelers of Police in the U.S.

Shooting of Philando CastileIn what many believe to be a political game of backatcha', the Bahamas on Friday issued a warning to its citizens planning to travel to the United States about the danger of interacting with police officers:

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken a note of the recent tensions in some American cities over shootings of young black males by policemen. We wish to advise all Bahamians traveling to the US, but especially to the affected cities, to exercise appropriate caution generally. In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police." You can read the entire advisory here.

The travel warning from the Bahamas comes after a week of protests in the U.S after three white police officers shot two black men in separate incidents a total of 11 times and killed them.

On Tuesday, two policemen shot 37-year-old Alton Sterling (left) six times in a parking lot of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On Wednesday, a policeman fatally shot 32-year-old Philando Castile (right) five times after a traffic stop of a car which he was driving with his girlfriend and her four year old daughter inside. The police did not attempt to administer first aid to either of the dying men. After Mr. Philando Castile Alton SterlingCastile was shot, the police arrested his girlfriend in front of her child who also witnessed the shooting and then was separated from her mother at the police station.

The governor of Minnesota commented that he was "appalled" by the shooting of Mr. Castile and the mistreatment of his girlfriend and said that police wouldn't have shot and killed Philando Castile if he'd been white. 

President Obama put matters into perspective, that blacks are more like to be stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned than whites. He commented: "black drivers are more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops. After being pulled over, blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites."

Here in the U.S., we have witnessed far too many black men whose lives ended prematurely by overzealous and poorly trained police officers. The images of Eric Gardner, who was choked by an officer and was then tackled by four other policemen, are impossible to watch and then are even more impossible to forget.  Mr. Gardner was restrained face down on the sidewalk gasping "I can't breath" eleven times before he became unconscious and later died. The police officers and later, the EMT's, didn't bother to perform CPR on this dying man either. 

Americans here in the U.S. are familiar with the names Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Sandra Brown who all died during or after confrontations with the police. Each injustice seems to blend with the next in a seemingly endless video loop that shocks the nation's conscience.    

Yes, these deaths raise disturbing questions about race relations in the U.S. To me, it seems that the vestiges of racism are alive and well in the U.S.  The nation will soon face the specter of probable acquittals if there is a decision to prosecute the three police officers involved in the most recent shootings. U.S. history tells us that often the murderers of blacks will be found innocent of criminal charges. I have written before that "history shows that instances of racial violence are usually followed by injustice in the legal system." Sadly, these tragedies may end with additional violent riots that will inevitably follow if the the officers are acquitted.

Of course, none of this heartbreak and injustice has anything to do with travelers from the Bahamas who live in their own world of crime and violence. As I have mentioned many times, the Bahamas has an extremely high murder rate.  With a total population last year of around 388,000, the country experienced 149 murders which resulted in a per capita murder rate of around 38 per 100,000 residents (compared to the national U.S. per capita murder rate of only 4.5 per 100,000).  This is the murder rate of the country. If what many consider to be generally safe locations like the Family Islands outside of New Providence are excluded, Nassau is as unsafe as the U.S.'s most dangerous cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans.  

The murders in the Bahamas rival the gruesome details of the U.S. shooting I mentioned above. The case of Edgar Dart, a traveler from Britain via Canada, who was bound and killed by three robbers when they broke into his mother's home armed with a gun and a machete, remains unsolved. The family was tied up with duct tape during the raid and Mr. Dart was killed after bleeding to death in front of his son, as well as in front of his brother, sister-in-law, and young nephew. 

Crimes against U.S., Canadian or British citizens in the Bahamas are rarely solved. Within the last two Garu Vanhoeckyears, the murders of American student Mason Hart, British diving instructor Gary Vanhoeck (left), and retired Canadian doctor Geoffrey Harding have not been solved. There are no arrests following assaults, robberies, thefts and muggings of Americans.

The U.S. State Department stated in one of the dozen warnings dating back over the last couple of years: "The U.S. Embassy has received multiple reports of tourists robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in tourist locations in the downtown areas of Nassau, to include the cruise ship docks and the Cable Beach commerce areas; several of these incidents occurred during daylight hours. Burglaries, larcenies and “snatch-and-grab” crimes happen in Nassau and U.S. citizens have been victims of these crimes. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, in diverse areas such as in casinos, outside hotels, or on cruise ships."   

The Bahamas also has an incredibly high per capita rape rate. The Bahamas' rate of rape is 113 out of 100,000. In the USA it is around 28 per 100,000.  

Slate's Mike Pesca was precisely on point when he wrote today in an article The Bahamas Is Warning Its Citizens About the Dangers of the United States - The Truth is Bahamians are Safer Abroad than at Home: "Of course, the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are just the latest horrific incidents in what has become a blight on America. But the Bahamian government’s warning should not be interpreted as another data point in America’s shame so much as a statistical misinterpretation of actual danger. In fact, on average, a Bahamian who leaves his country to travel to the United States would decrease his chances of being murdered."

My thought is that Bahamians should be aware of the history of violence against blacks here in the U.S., to the extent that they are not aware of this reality with the non-stop international coverage provided by cable news.  But this warning seems designed to serve other purposes.  Many Bahamians, particular merchants concerned that repeated U.S. warnings about crime in Nassau is bad for the cruise business in Nassau, dislike the fact that the Bahamas is repeatedly the subject of U.S. State Department's "critical crime" warnings. One Bahamian reader commenting on the Bahamian warning told the Tribune newspaper in Nassau: "No I'm not saying that there's not a real danger for black Bahamians in the US, I'm saying I don't think the primary motivation for this advisory was to protect Bahamians. This was 'stick it to the US' policy."   

Other Bahamians who left comments on the Slate article singled out Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Minister Fred Mitchel, as having "a major chip on his shoulder about race issues and is very anti-USA" and "is hoping by 'sticking it to the man', as it were, he'll take some of the pressure off his government's total failure to address the crime problem."

The purpose of a governmental warning is to educate citizens about matters that they might not know about. I doubt that any Bahamians flying to the U.S. are unaware of the protests filling the cable news broadcasts about the killing of black men (and the murder of five white policemen in Dallas by a black man with a AR-15 which the Bahamian warning does not mention). However, first time cruisers to Nassau, filled with dreams that it is "better in the Bahamas," may think they are taking their family to a safe tropical island. They might not realize that they are traveling to an island where they are eight times more likely to be murdered than in the U.S.   

Update July 11 2016: Opposing Views addresses the issue: Bahamas Travel Advisory Is Just Tit For Tat.

Update July 12 2016 Update: According to the Tribune newspaper, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau released a new travel warning message "urging its citizens and US visitors in Nassau and Paradise Island to exercise heightened personal security awareness, pointing out that armed robberies and violent crime remain primary criminal threats."

More Fall-Out or No Fall-Out, Depending Who You Ask:  Mitchell: No Fallout From The Us Over Ministry's Travel Advisory

Photo Credit:  Shooting of Philando Castile - CNN 

Alton Sterling (left) and Philando Castile (right) - Twitter via Observer.

Gary Vanhoeck - BBC

Costa Crew Member Sentenced to Jail for Attempted Rape of Girl

Italian newspapers are reporting that a 34 year-old waiter was sentenced to 10 months in jail for assaulting and attempting to rape a 17 year-old girl on the Costa Fascinosa.  The Il Gazzettino first reported the incident which occurred three years ago on October 19th during a cruise in the Adriatic Sea, between Istanbul and Dubrovnik.

La Nuova di Venezia says that the waiter, identified as Floriano Fernandes, assaulted the girl in a bathroom of the cruise ship but she successfully resisted the attempted rape. The following day, the ship called on Venice but the captain failed to report and/or delayed in accurately reporting the assault and attempted rape. In a report to the Coast Guard, the captain, identified as Ignatius Giardina, from Sicily, reportedly wrote that there Costa Fascinosawas no "extraordinary event" during the cruise. The Italian prosecutor alleged that the captain fraudulently misrepresented the fact that a crime had occurred on the ship and prosecuted him for not properly reporting it.     

Captain Giardina has worked for Costa for 36 years, first as a cadet back in1980, later as a staff captain and safety officer, and as a master for the last 16 years.   

The captain's defense lawyer argued that "extraordinary event" referred to a navigation point of view, such as a collision, and was not referring to the attempted rape. The captain was acquitted of trying to cover the crime up. 

I first read about the assault on the Crew Center web site. 

Sexual assaults on girls and women are not uncommon on cruise ships and Costa ships in particular. In October of last year, the Italian press reported on an incident where a Costa crew member allegedly sexually molested a 15 year-old girl aboard the Costa Diadema.  Two months earlier, on the same Costa cruise ship, a bartender allegedly followed an 18 year-old French woman into her cabin and raped her.

In 2013, a female Costa security guard alleged that she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor who was permitted to fly back to his home country after the crime. She subsequently won a civil case against her employer.

This is the first case, however, where I have heard that an officer (master) of a cruise ship was prosecuted for allegedly not properly reporting an allegation of sexual assault. I have seen many scenarios where the cruise line tried to cover a rape up but I have never seen any prosecutor willing to levy such allegations in a criminal court against the master of a ship.   

Photo Credit:  By René Grob CC BY-SA 4.0.   

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