In the wake of two back-to-back pirate attacks on a tourist cruise ship sailing the Peruvian Amazon, police and government agencies are quickly taking measures to rebuild security and confidence in the region.
On Aug. 4, armed pirates attacked and robbed passengers on the Aqua, just nine days after a similar attack on the luxury vessel.
Security on the rivers is "the government's responsibility," said Francesco Galli Zugaro, CEO of Lima, Peru-based Aqua Expeditions, which owns the 12-suite river ship.
Galli Zugaro said that though plainclothes police investigators were onboard during the second attack, they refrained from using their arms lest guests be caught in a crossfire. Some news agencies reported that the investigators had been overpowered by the pirates and that the passengers had been bound during the second incident. Galli Zugaro denied those reports.
After both incidents, several arrests were made, and some of the stolen possessions were reclaimed, according to Aqua Expeditions.
Galli Zugaro acknowledged that since the second attack, the government stepped up efforts to ensure security in the region. Now, and for the foreseeable future, five or six Peruvian Navy patrollers will be escorting the Aqua, Galli Zugaro said. The ship is running its regularly scheduled weekly departures, having altered the itinerary only to avoid the area where the second incident occurred, about three hours upriver from the town of Nauta on the Ucayali River.
Peru's National Police and the Peruvian Navy have said they are committed to protecting Peru's Amazon River Basin.
"Together we can institute a plan of action for national defense," Peru's interior minister, Octavio Salazar, said in a statement. The area that will be policed includes more than 6,200 miles of navigable rivers.
"It is a vast area," Salazar stated, "but we are committed to securing the tourism infrastructure of the region."
Miguel Hidalgo Medina, director general of Peru's National Police, said that 140 recent graduates of Iquitos' Police Academy will be trained for river protection.
Other operators on alert
The Aqua is not the only river cruise vessel in the region. There are several other tourist vessels, including a five-ship fleet owned by Jungle Expeditions, which is based in Iquitos, Peru. One of those vessels is the 28-passenger La Amatista, which is operated by Birmingham, Ala.-based tour operator International Expeditions.
And Delfin Amazon Cruises operates two luxury ships, the 12-passenger Delfin I and the 28-passenger Delfin II.
These operators, too, are keeping a close watch on the security situation in the region.
"In over 30 years of operating in the Peruvian Amazon, taking about 30,000 guests there, we have never had such an incident," Maggie Hart, president of International Expeditions, wrote in an email.
She added that the same week as the second Aqua attack, La Amatista went into scheduled drydock and will resume operations on Sept. 18. Embarkation and disembarkation will be moved to Nauta, "which eliminates the isolated part of the river close to Iquitos from our itinerary," Hart said. "We will make an assessment as to the need for any further security precautions before resuming operations."
Hart said International Expeditions had not received calls from concerned guests, though a handful of agents called with questions about security.
Aqua Expeditions has not been as lucky. "We've been affected. I'd be lying to you if I said we haven't," said Galli Zugaro. "We've had clients that canceled, and we've refunded 100% of their money. And now we're giving guests opportunities to rebook if they want."
While the incidents caused concern and cancellations, Galli Zugaro said he was confident that tourism to the region would bounce back "very quickly, within the next few months." In fact, he tentatively plans to launch a new luxury vessel next year.
As for whether a luxury ship such as the Aqua is an obvious target in a poor country, Galli Zugaro said, "I should be comfortable in investing in something that is beautiful and not worrying about whether there are big bay windows or security onboard."