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.

September 1 2016 Update: More troubles for the daughters - After parents died on the Amazon, two sisters are frustrated in their search for answers.

September 12 2016 Update: Determined Nebraska Sisters Seek Answers in the Mysterious Deaths of Their Parents Aboard Luxury Amazon Cruise - "Kelly and Jill's investigators concluded that the fire was caused by a faulty electrical power strip in their parents' cabin and that fire and smoke alarms weren't working. And video footage showed that it took crew members 22 minutes to pull their father from the second-story cabin, and another six minutes to rescue their mother . . . to make the sad outcome even worse, says Jill, her parents wedding rings have gone missing 'and were likely stolen off their dead bodies . . . '"

November 19. 2016 Update:  The New York Times published There's No Law on the Amazon: River Pirates Terrorize Ships By Night

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
http://www.cruiselawnews.com/admin/trackback/323562
Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Doug - July 16, 2016 9:02 AM

My wife and I were one of the 20 US, 6 Australian and 2 New Zeland passengers onboard the Amazon Discovery. On July 14 at approximately 3:30 am the ship was boarded by about 8 armed men. There were 8 armed men. 7 with handguns and 1 with a 8 inch filet knife. They were in control of our ship for about 2 hours. It took 3 hours for 6 police to arrive. The truth is EACH of the 30 passengers lost about $20,000 each. One elderly Australian man alone lost a necklace worth an estimated $8,000. The ship was docked all night on the shore. These guys walked onboard.

Alma Megeath - July 18, 2016 2:34 PM

Who in their right mind(s) travels with that kind of cash/valuables with them? I am referring to any international travel, not just to Latin America! Who would travel with an $8000 (I presume gold) necklace/chain? Leave the bling a home, travel with a little bit of cash and credit cards. ATMs are available everywhere in Latin America and credit cards are universally accepted. The only need for cash is at Indian markets, with street vendors, tips to porters & guides, etc. Some people want to play with the more favorable exchange rates given for cash, but is it worth it? That is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Charles - July 23, 2016 12:11 PM

Alma, I was on that cruise and l have traveled worldwide professionally as a corporate jet pilot for over 30 years. Guess what we never go into a foreign country without at least $10,000 cash because if you have to get out because of a emergency or event cash is king. Although we do have handlers and stay in American hotels! In other words we have security! This Peruvian boat company did not have any security and moored the boat in an insecure location at night were pirates have struck before! No warnings were issued by the Peruvian government, The US State Department or Delphin, the boat operator. So don't blame the passengers for trusting Delphin Cruises.

You've obliviously have never had to bug out! I have and you defininatly do not stop at your ATM!
PS Hi, Doug

Jinnine - July 23, 2016 10:19 PM

We were four of the Australians on the Amazon Discover during the 'hijacking' by the pirates.

DO NOT TRAVEL ON THE AMAZON RIVER - this is a KNOWN drug trafficking route, the pirates were KNOWN by the police and tour boat company. The river in the Amazon is over 6,000 km long, with only 26 local police to patrol the area (not that you would really depend on them. It took over 4 hours for any police to find us.

This was a planned inside job!!! We were woken up at 3.30am in the morning with a banging on the door - my husband went to answer the door, to have a gun put to his forehead to open the door. Our safe was already open (unknown to us). The night before, they had done a half attempt at a 'turn down service' - they must have checked everything out and also unlocked safes. They took everything. $20,000 is a joke - more like about $250,00 in total for all passengers - if you think about electronics, cash, jewellery etc. As my mother-in-law has bad arthritis, they even considered cutting or breaking her fingers to get the rings off - only due to time, they didn't. After the first entrance of the gunned robber (face covered with a mask and plasters on his finger tips), the cruise director came in with the robber, she was also on her phone. She was communicating openly (not under duress) with the robber - she did not see my husband and I huddled in the bed. After the incident, I told her what I saw - she threatened me, that if I said anything further, that I would be reported to the local police - trust me, they are not an authority, that you would like to spend time with.

The company is trying to play down the gravity of the situation so that you will still think it is safe to travel.

There was no security, no emergency preparedness, no response, no recovery procedures in place. No senior crew member no captain took control after the incident. There was no emergency flares, no UHF radios, no satellite phones, no communication, no co-ordination, NO NOTHING. We floated from about 4.30am - 9.30am with no assistance, no police - NOTHING????

Where you have poverty, corruption and drugs - there is NO tour company or cruise boat operator that can guarantee your safety/security 100%. There are lots of articles on this incident, one below. If you still with to continue and play Russian Roulette with your life - good luck!!!!

http://perureports.com/2016/07/15/armed-gang-robs-cruise-ship-perus-amazon/

PS Alma - we had about cash, ipads, cameras etc...the amount does mount up, it was not just cash.....Hi Charles.

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.







Remember personal info?