My Parents Died On A ‘Safe’ American Cruise. Make Sure What Happened To Them Doesn’t Happen To You

Originally published at Independent Journal Review

The Hammer Family

The Hammer Family

Summer is here, which means Americans have vacation on their minds. A cruise is an enticing option for travelers—more than 10 million Americans will set sail on a cruise vacation in 2016.

If you’re considering one, I have two words for you: be careful. Cruise companies have a checkered history of compromising safety in favor of profits. And when those compromises lead to tragedy, cruise companies use antiquated maritime laws to dodge accountability.

My parents—Larry and Christy Hammer—found that out under the most tragic circumstances.

On April 8th, they flew to Peru for a week-long Amazon River cruise aboard La Estrella Amazonica—a boat “design[ed] and “buil[t]” by the U.S.-based International Expeditions. As you can see, the company proudly markets the boat on its website:

While International Expeditions may prioritize comfort, the company sacrificed safety and ultimately cost my parents their lives.

On their first night aboard La Estrella Amazonica, my parents were trapped inside a burning cabin in the middle of the night. My father died before the crew even attempted to get him out of the room. My mother clung to a heartbeat when the crew finally pulled her out, but died sometime later—I still don’t know when or where she passed away.

As my family searched for answers, two things became clear: my parent’s deaths were completely avoidable and International Expeditions was not willing to help us find answers or accept responsibility.

My parents’ cabin lacked an in-room fire alarm, which could have alerted them before smoke overwhelmed their lungs. One of the room’s power strips—that likely caused the fire—also lacked surge protection, as well as safety and flammability ratings (yet International Expeditions boasted that they included everything that was “really important” on the boat).

La Estrella Amazonica’s under-trained and disorganized crew wasted 20 precious minutes after discovering the fire before finally entering the room. During that fatal period, the crew opened the cabin door and quickly slammed it shut multiple times.

Within hours of the fire, International Expeditions’ president, Van Perry, flew to Peru to personally comfort the remaining passengers and re-board them onto La Estrella Amazonica. During that time, he publicly declared the boat “safe for travel.” It set sail within three days of my parents’ deaths—even though the cause of the fire was unknown at the time.

Despite concerted efforts, we have not been able to identify anyone—including local authorities—who cleared the boat as “safe for travel” (other than Mr. Perry himself).

Before my parents’ death, Van Perry claimed, “I’m responsible for everything and accountable. If something goes wrong, I’ll be the first to say, ‘It’s my fault.’ ”

Apparently, he and his company change their tune when something actually goes wrong.

I’m sharing our story because it can happen to you—or to your loved ones. Just because a U.S.- based company like International Expeditions claims expertise, it doesn’t mean their statements are grounded in reality.

So please, be careful.