LINCOLN — A Peruvian Navy reports that a Gretna couple’s death could have been avoided if the luxury cruise ship had been equipped with the safety features it advertised and if the crew had been properly trained and had promptly responded.

On April 10, 2016, a fire killed Larry and Christy Hammer.  The fire was confined to only their cabin.

According to the report, “Prompt action was not taken to aid and rescue the passengers. An opportune reaction and participation by the whole of the crew … would have enabled at least Mrs. Christy Hammer to be saved.”

“Prompt action was not taken to aid and rescue the passengers. An opportune reaction and participation by the whole of the crew … would have enabled at least Mrs. Christy Hammer to be saved.”

Hammer Malott of Menlo Park, California, said that per the report, even something as little as a working smoke alarm could have prevented this tragedy.  “It’s disturbing that something like this could ever happen,” Malott said.

Malott is looking to International Expeditions – the cruise company that operated Larry and Christy’s cruise – for answers.  An IE spokesperson says that IE “continues to be deeply saddened” by Larry and Christy’s deaths but could not comment further because the ship’s owner is appealing the findings.

A prosecutor in Peru is in the process of a criminal investigation as well.

IE spokesperson Emily Harley says, “IE shares the family’s desire for information as the Peruvian authorities continue their investigation. Throughout this process, the safety of IE guests and this accident remain a high priority for IE.”

Per the report, the fire started as a result of a short circuiting power strip the ship provided.  Larry Hammer was using the strip to power his CPAP machine.

No fire alarm went off when the fire started.  The crew member on watch at the time had no basic safety certifications.  Several other of the 18 Estrella Amazonica crew members were missing their basic safety certifications as well.

It took 21 minutes before a rescue effort was attempted by 6 or 7 crew members.

By the time the crew got to the Larry and Christy’s cabin, Larry, 74, was already dead.  Christy, 72, was still alive but later died of carbon monoxide poisoning a few minutes from the hospital.

Also noted in the report was that no fire-resistant materials were used in the cabins.  The captain slept through the fire.

This cruise was touted as “the best in the Amazon.”

This cruise was touted as “the best in the Amazon.”

Additionally, because the Hammer couple was elderly, their family is unlikely to recover much in damages.

US law dictates that in the case of deaths on the “high seas”,  the court awards damages based on the victim’s income and whether or not they have dependents.  For the Hammers, those damages may only cover funeral expenses.

The lawyer for Larry and Christy’s daughters are looking for alternatives to this 97 year old law and believes he can find ways to recover additional damages.

The daughters are also crusading to change the Death on the High Seas Act and to improve safety on cruises.

The harbor master revoked the captain’s license and issued a $19,000 fine to the ships’s owner for what the report called “a very serious accident.”

The Estrella Amazonica is still running cruises.  The spokesperson for IE would not comment about if any safety changes had been made to the ship.  The ship’s owner could not be reached for comment either.

Larry and Christy’s daughters claimed iE claimed their ship “exceeded Peruvian safety standards” in its advertising.  IE’s website no longer contains these claims.

Ross Diamond III, a maritime lawyer says “The limits on damages are pretty cruel.”

“If someone dies on their cruise ship, no matter how reckless their behavior, they know their exposure from a civil lawsuit is very low,”

Brett Rivkind, another lawyer hired by the family who has also urged Congress for reforms says that cruise ship companies face very little liability, and as a result don’t have much incentive to improve safety standards.

“If someone dies on their cruise ship, no matter how reckless their behavior, they know their exposure from a civil lawsuit is very low,” Rivkind says.

Both Rivkind and Diamond said cruise ship industry lobbyists have been blocking efforts to amend the Death on the High Seas Act.

Even something as little as smoke detectors may have prevented this.  “Ten dollars a cabin could have saved our parents’ lives,” Malott said.

 

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