(Guest Post) Jill Hammer Malott and Kelly Hammer Lankford offer advise

Mostly I write about the positive happenings on the ships, but there are times when I don’t. This is one of those times.

Last week I got an email from Jill Hammer Malott who wanted to share with me her cruise story. Sadly her parents died on an exotic river cruise on the Amazon River. I was moved by her story and wanted to share it on CruiseBuzz.net. Jill’s motivation is to educate cruise travelers about “the cruise industry’s many pitfalls.” As a former travel agent, I know there are pitfalls in the cruise industry. But I don’t think that generalizing about the entire industry is fair. I do think some cruise lines and crew members are better at safety, which is why we need to continue to put cruise ship safety into focus. Also, working with reputable cruise lines like the ones who are members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, is also a good idea. One final thought, the letter mentions that the ship was a “luxury riverboat” – Based on what I have seen of the vessel, it looks to me that the term is misused. I wonder how and what classifys the riverboat as a luxury vessel?

Jill and her sister’s story appeared in People Magazine, check it out, there is a good video report about the sisters’ quest for answers. You can read People Magazine’s  coverage of the tragedy here: http://www.people.com/article/nebraska-couple-death-amazon-cruise.

Begin post from Jill Hammer Malott and Kelly Hammer Lankford 

River Cruisers Should Understand Risks

River cruises are very popular. Four in 10 Americans would consider river cruising for an upcoming vacation. AAA’s river cruise bookings have increased by more than 15 percent in the last year alone.

But river cruises are not to be taken lightly. Our family was intrigued by them—until our parents were killed on a river cruise through no fault of their own.

In early April, our parents—Drs. Larry and Christy Hammer—embarked on a week-long Peruvian Amazon cruise aboard International Expeditions’ (IE) luxury riverboat La Estrella Amazonica. Our parents chose the voyage because, as the company claims online, “With International Expeditions at the helm, you’ll adventure in safety and comfort aboard La Estrella Amazonica.” IE, an Alabama-based travel company, still promotes the river cruise as the “greatest voyage in natural history.”

But our parents will never set sail on another voyage. On the first night of their cruise, our parents were trapped inside a burning cabin and unable to escape. Our father had died before the crew extracted him from the room. Our mother clung to a heartbeat when the crew finally pulled her out, but died a few hours later. The exact time and location of her death is still unknown.

How did tragedy strike so suddenly? As our family searched for answers, it became clear that multiple layers of failure onboard killed our parents.

Independent investigators discovered that the likely source of the fire was a power strip supplied by the Estrella Amazonica. The boat’s power strip lacked surge protection and flammability or safety ratings. Investigators also found that our parents’ cabin lacked an in-room fire alarm—which could have sounded before it was too late.

Surveillance footage reveals that the crew wasted well over 22 minutes after noticing the smoke before pulling our father from the cabin; another 6 minutes to extract our mother. During that fatal period, crew members opened and shut the cabin door numerous times while our parents were struggling for their last breaths, trapped on the other side.

The failed leadership of International Expeditions only makes our family’s suffering more unbearable. The company’s president, Van Perry, rushed to the scene and publicly declared that the boat was “safe enough to resume operations” within days of our parents’ deaths. (The boat set sail again two days after our parents were killed.)

Yet, at the time, he was unaware of what had caused the fire or why our parents were not alerted by an alarm—let alone saved by the crew. The horrific details—the absence of fire alarms and surge protectors, not to mention the negligent crew members—were still shrouded in mystery. Perry and his company continue to stonewall our family as we ask for additional information.

This can happen to you—or your loved ones. As the International Cruise Victims Association’s website shows, tragedy can strike on any cruise vacation, from the largest cruise liners to the smallest riverboats.

Before you book a cruise, make sure that the travel company in charge follows the strictest safety standards and holds itself accountable. Doing your homework now could save your life later.

Jill Hammer Malott and Kelly Hammer Lankford are the daughters of Drs. Larry and Christy Hammer.

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