21 APR 2017: A couple from Nebraska onboard a river cruise ship on the Peruvian Amazon, died when a fire broke out in their cabin last year. This month a report by the Peruvian Navy has been released which states negligence on behalf of the ship liners’ crew, equipment and protocol.

Doctors Larry and Christy Hammer were both retired and in their seventies when they perished on the cruise ship La Estrella Amazonica. The ship has been recently renamed Amazon Star and continues to be operated by International Expeditions in Helena, Alabama.

The report states that no detection device produced an alarm for a fire triggered by a short circuit on a power strip, provided by the liner. The mattress the couple slept on was flammable which is in defiance to The SOLAS Convention (the international maritime treaty for the Safety of Life at Sea which requires bedding to be fire retardant).

The report also says that the crews’ response was "deficient" and "ineffective," and they lacked training and certifications required by Peruvian law. It took them 20 minutes to start rescuing passengers.

Christy Hammer was still alive when she was eventually pulled from the cabin, but died within five minute of reaching a hospital.

The Hammers” daughters, Kelly Hammer Lankford and Jill Hammer Malott, responded to the report and concern that the cruise company has refused to take responsibility.  

Lawyers for the cruise company have stated that they are protected by DOHSA.

The 1920”s DOHSA (Death on the High Seas Act) excuses the cruise line from liability in that it only provides compensation for the loss of a wage earner. If payment is made to survivors there is no compensation for pain and suffering.

“Arguing that DOHSA applies is merely International Expeditions” attempt to avoid responsibility,” said Malott. “This is deplorable given the egregious facts and the company’s misrepresentations.”

Malott and Lankford did their own investigation according to the Omaha World-Herald, and came up with the same disturbing facts found in the Peruvian Navy’s report.

They hired private detectives in Peru; spoke to representatives of the state department and the Peruvian Embassy, as well as International Expeditions.

“There were so many multiple layers of failure on the boat that night,” Malott said. “I don’t want this to happen to another person. This should never have happened to my parents.”

The sisters refused to accept a refund cheque from International Expeditions for the Hammer’s trip in the amount of $10,000. They want the cruise ship company to take responsibility and commit to providing each cabin with working fire detection devices.

Emily Harley, spokesperson for the cruise company stated, “All of us here at IE continue to be deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life of two of our guests following a cabin fire last year aboard La Estrella Amazonica, a vessel that we charter.

“Given the pending legal proceedings in Peru we cannot provide specifics, but our highest priority remains the safety of our guests aboard our chartered vessels. We continue to review our operations to ensure we have the right protocols in place.”

A criminal investigation by a local prosecutor in Peru is in progress.

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