Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Amazon guide begs river pirates to spare the lives of Kiwis on Peru Amazon Cruise

Amazon Discovery head guide Denis Gonzales pleaded with pirates to spare the lives of Kiwi passengers on the river boat. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Amazon Discovery head guide Denis Gonzales pleaded with pirates to spare the lives of Kiwi passengers on the river boat. Photo / Lincoln Tan

Pirates on the Amazon River spared the lives of two New Zealanders only after desperate pleas from a jungle guide and his crew, it has been revealed.

The Kiwi pair were travelling on board the Amazon Discovery riverboat with 28 other tourists when armed bandits struck in the early hours of July 14.

Speaking exclusively with the Herald in Iquitos, Peru, head expedition guide Denis Gonzales said the crew were caught by surprise when eight armed bandits arrived on a small motorboat at about 3am.

"They were shouting 'give me money and everything' and said they will shoot the passengers if they didn't get it fast," Gonzales said.

The 22-cabin luxury riverboat was on the second night of a four-day cruise of the Peruvian Amazon, and was docked at the time outside the village of Huaysi - about three hours south of Iquitos.

Cruise ship Amazon Discovery. Photo / Supplied
Cruise ship Amazon Discovery. Photo / Supplied

The ship had two security staff on board but they were outnumbered and overpowered by the pirates.

"I tried to reason with them, but then 'pow', one of them hit me with his pistol," said Gonzales.

"I knew if we tried to fight back we would be sure to lose and there could be fatalities.

"So I started pleading with them to spare the passengers, and hoped that they have a heart."

Gonzales knocked on the cabin doors to wake the passengers and explained the situation. Most were stunned and confused, but co-operated in opening their safe boxes and surrendered their cash and valuables.

Travelling with the Kiwis on board the craft operated by Delfin Amazon Cruises were six Australians and 20 American guests.

Gonzales said the bandits threatened to cut the finger of one woman passenger when she couldn't get her ring off, and wanted to hit another when she refused to co-operate.

"I had to step between them and begged them not to do anything, and 'pow', again I was hit," he said.

"I told them they were here for the money and hurting the passengers won't achieve anything."

The ordeal lasted just over half an hour, and the pirates made off with about $28,000 in cash, electronic gadgets and jewellery.

Gonzales was hospitalised for his injuries but had now fully recovered and has resumed work as an expedition guide with the company.

He said three others of the 27-strong crew were also attacked, including ship captain Wilson Monge.

"I feel very sad that this thing happened, but at the same time I am just so glad that no lives were lost and no guests were hurt," Gonzales added.

None of the passengers were harmed during the robbery and they were returned to the embarkation port at Iquitos where arrangements were made for them to either return home or continue their travels by the cruise line.

They were also reimbursed for their cruise and a monetary amount for the stolen items.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said it was notified of the incident but had not been told if the criminals had been apprehended.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

"The Ministry understands that both New Zealanders involved continued with their travel plans following the incident," the spokesman said.

"We have not received any further updates."

The Ministry is advising caution for travellers going to Peru.

"While there have been no major attacks in recent years, isolated security incidents have occurred in some remote areas," it said.

"Terrorism in Peru is closely linked to drug trafficking and organised crime."

The Ministry also recommended seeking local advice before travelling to remote areas, and caution to be exercised in some locations.

"There is a higher threat to your safety in areas where drugs are cultivated and processed, such as Alto Huallaga, Aguaytia and the Apurimac-Ene-Mantaro river basins area."

The ministry also said Kiwis travelling to Peru should also have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place that includes provision for medical evacuation by air.

Since the incident, security measures have been stepped up to ensure passenger safety. This included having armed police personnel and additional security staff on board all tourist vessels.

Christian Moreno, who leads expeditions to the Amazon, insists incidents involving river pirates were isolated and the risk of danger when cruising in the Peruvian Amazon were "extremely low".

"It's something that I have never encountered, and probably never will," Moreno said.

"Besides the increased security measures to prevent such attacks, including having police protection on board, has made cruising these rivers even safer."

Soon after the July incident, Conde Nast Traveller reported that Delfin made an assurance that it would immediately implement permanent surveillance staff on board and having its vessels escorted by additional security staff in a speedboat.

Delfin operates three ships in the Amazon.

In 2001, New Zealand's most famous sailor Sir Peter Blake was shot and killed by armed pirates in the Brazilian Amazon.

At aged 53, Blake was set upon by eight pirates and died from gunshot wounds after the robbers opened fire.

- Herald on Sunday

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