A year ago, on the first night of a long-planned cruise in Peruvian Amazon, Christy and Larry Hammer, retirees in their early 70s, were killed in a fire which broke out in their stateroom on the 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica.
Earlier this month, the Peruvian Navy determined that gross negligence on the part of the ship’s crew, a lack of appropriate equipment and a failure to follow safety protocols contributed to the Lincoln, Neb., couple’s death.
But regardless of the report, the trip organizer, Alabama-based International Expeditions, owned by the Germany-based TUI group, indicated through their lawyers to the family’s Peruvian lawyers that the family didn’t understand the 1920 Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA).
Maritime lawyers explain that cruise lines often use the antiquated law to shield them from financial responsibility in cases where there has been a death at sea because it mandates that compensation be made only if the deceased were wage-earners. No compensation is required if they were children or retirees, like the Hammers.
Kelly Lankford and Jill Malott, the Hammers’ daughters, are astonished by both the report and the company’s refusal to take responsibility.
The Navy report backs the sisters’ contention that their parents were given false assurances about the ship’s safety. The blaze was caused by a short circuit in a power strip the crew gave to the passengers, and it spread to a suitcase and a mattress that was not fire-resistant, as mandated by Peruvian maritime law.