One of the cruise stories I have followed closely this year is the tragic story of a couple from Nebraska who perished due to a fire in their cabin aboard the La Estrella Amazonica, a luxury river cruise ship on the Peruvian Amazon.
We first wrote about the deadly fire which took the lives of Larry and Christy Hammer in April in our article titled Fire, Bandits Plague Amazon River Cruises in Peru.
The Hammer daughters, Jill and Kelly, attribute the cause of their parents’ deaths to the absence of basic safety features aboard the river cruise ship, which International Expeditions of Alabama stated they designed, built and owned. But the ship, the daughters contend, lacked functioning in-cabin fire alarms, safety-rated power strips, and a crew trained in fire suppression and life-saving techniques. Moreover, the Hammer children believe that International Expeditions (IE) has demonstrated that it’s more concerned with its marketing image than the circumstances that killed their parents.
According to the daughters, they hired experts to inspect the ship after the fire, but IE refused to cooperate.
"A team of experts inspected the ship on April 27th, despite IE’s attempts to block that inspection. Rather than having the ship at the agreed-upon meeting spot, IE sailed hours upriver to a location which was not accessible by road. A seaplane had to be chartered for the inspection team to get on the boat. Although IE agreed that the team could have unlimited access to the ship and unlimited time, IF allowed the team only 3 hours and 45 minutes on the ship and pernitted them to see only a few select cabins. Furthermore, IE did not allow the team to see several portions of the ship, and denied the team access to the historical records from the fire control panel and surveillance videos."
The daughters have focused their efforts on finding information about their parents’ final moments and warning the public of potential dangers associated with cruising on ships registered overseas, even if owned by an American company (La Estrella Amazonica is flagged in Peru). People Magazine covered the story is an article titled Determined Nebraska Sisters Seek Answers in the Mysterious Deaths of Their Parents Aboard Luxury Amazon Cruise which contained disturbing information that the Hammers’ wedding rings were missing after the fire "and were likely stolen off their dead bodies," Jill told the magazine.
The Omaha World-Herald explained that shipboard surveillance videotape indicates that fire alarms weren’t sounding, as smoke poured from a light fixture, and crew members appeared confused and disorganized as they tried to locate the source of the fire and wasted over 22 minutes before extracting Larry Hammer. This raises concerns whether the crew members were trained for emergencies or had the proper certificates to serve as crew.
The U.K.’s Mail Online contained similar information in an article titled Nebraska Couple Died in Amazon Cruise Inferno After ‘Alarms Failed and Confused Crew Took 20 Minutes to Pull Them From Their Burning Cabin – and Then the Ship Continued its Voyage.’
I communicated with the Hammer daughters regarding the recent status of their search for information:
"Ever since our parents were killed on International Expeditions’ (IE) Amazon boat La Estrella Amazonica, we have been desperate to figure out how this tragedy happened. IE has denied our pleas for information on multiple fronts:
- First, we asked IE to provide us with other passengers’ contact information so we could learn about our parents’ last night alive. They refused, despite some passengers’ requests to IE to provide us with their contact information. Thankfully, these passengers persevered and found us despite IE’s attempts to prevent contact.
- Second, we pleaded with IE to provide us with documentation that anyone other than IE itself cleared the boat as “safe enough” to sail 48 hours after our parents died. We also asked IE to provide us with documentation that the boat was "thoroughly inspected." They remain unable to do so.
- Third, [IE president] Van Perry claimed in an interview before our parents were killed, “if something goes wrong, I’ll be the first to say, ‘It’s my fault. It’s not someone else’s fault.” Yet, he and his company have shown no interest in acknowledging that multiple levels of failure on IE’s boat killed our parents.
We continue in our quest forTanswers and accountability from IE and Van Perry. We remain committed to doing our best to prevent this tragedy from striking more travelers."
October 13, 2016 Update: The Lee Summit Journal published this article with new information: After their parents’ death, sisters question safety measures on cruise ship.
October 14, 2016 Update: The Mercury News newspaper published Parents’ death in riverboat cruise sends Menlo Park daughter on quest for answers. Before the accident, International Expeditions said that it designed, built and owned the river cruise ship, but now claims that these representations were a "mistake and misunderstanding."
Photo credit: Larry and Christy Hammer with daughters, Kelly Hammer Lankford and Jill Hammer Malott – credit to: Kelly Hammer Lankford and Jill Hammer Malott via People Magazine.
Video: People Magazine.