What Went Wrong with the Andaman Explorer – By Paul Strachan
14 Jun 2019 by Admin
Recently, I have been receiving many emails from the regulars of Pandaw which inquire for information about what occurred on the Andaman Explorer, the classic motor yacht built in the 60s of the twentieth century. We purchased this cruise ship last year with the purpose of exploring the coastal region of Myanmar in general and the Mergui Archipelago in particular. To be honest, the story that I am about to tell you is not a pleasant one, but I am not the kind of man who would conceal the truth when things go wrong. Therefore, I would hereby let you know the whole truth and nothing but the truth of what actually happened.
The first time I saw the ship, back then named the MY Marina, in Dubai in November 2016, I fell in love with it right away. This ship was initially an ice-class coastguard vessel of Norway with a classic design and the original engines produced by Rolls Royce. Then in the 90s of the twentieth century, an Italian billionaire transformed the ship into a luxurious cruise serving well-off people. At the moment of seeing the ship, I believed that it would not require too many modification and restoration to sail on Burmese corner of Andaman Sea, an area that I once set foot on in the past, which possesses incredibly pristine nature and many concealed mysteries awaiting to be discovered. The Andaman Explorer passed all the usual inspection and surveys and had been re-classified so that it can make voyages on the sea.
The Elegant Appearance of the Andaman Explorer
After all the payments had been made, problems started to arise. We signed a contract with an Indian delivery, according to which, the ship would be transported from Dubai to Thailand where we prepared to perform the refit work. Nonetheless, many weeks went by and what we received were just the excuses from the Indian company reasoning why the transportation is in such delay. Meanwhile, without notification, they removed all the detachable and marketable parts from the ship. We dispatched a manager of Pandaw to Dubai, but he could not do much to help the ship get moving. In the end, I hired a captain from England, who used to be in Royal Marines, to take over the work and he succeeded in making the vessel work again. Then, during the sail across the Indian Ocean, many functions of the ship started to fail, one after another. When arriving in Thailand, it was just the engine that still worked, without water maker, sewage plant or air conditioning system.
Afterward, we made a decision to take her to Ranong, a port of Thailand on Myanmar border because we candidly thought that the workshops here would provide better service than that in Yangon. All the works were under the management of Captain Peter, a Scottish who had many years of experience in refurbishment and yacht conversion. He took over the project in February and it was not until September did the cruise ship get ready for its very first journey on the sea.
The Original Design of the Andaman Explorer
Many issues were still detected during the last trial run of the cruise. While the list things needed fixing was literally infinite, the most crucial tasks were to comprehensively revamp the engines, set up a new air conditioning system, new water makers, wastewater treatment plant, to name just a few categories. There was much more difficulty in working in Ranong than we predicted. We encounter constant harassment there because the whole town, including its authorities and the police, was under the control of a mafia gang who committed smuggling in the region. In addition, the local suppliers barely lived up to their promises, what they provided were much less than what they promised. Ultimately, we luckily found a reliable engineering company in Bangkok and then assigned most of the engine room work to them. The work here was not merely a matter of uncomplicated refurbishment but the comprehensive reconstruction. Nevertheless, much more issues were detected when we probed deeper.
We revamped the engines with a completely new set of parts manufactured by Rolls Royce in England and installed new facilities such as navigation system, electrical system, and water maker. In September, the ship was capable of sailing to Singapore for dry docking and class survey. While in Singapore, several problems with the propulsion system were detected by the dockyard and our stay was prolonged from one week to three weeks. The Explorer just returned to Kawthaung in Southern Myanmar in time for the first cruise which is scheduled to depart in the first week of October. A series of bad luck started to haunt us: the officers at the port did not allow our expat management team to step aboard because their visas were business visas, not tourist ones. For this reason, we could not make the ship ready and all things on board were out of control. When the first passengers arrived at the port, the officers also did not allow them to get on board as the authorities had yet begun the port clearance on arrival, despite the fact that the ship had been stayed there waiting for a week. Under this circumstance, we had to arrange for our passengers to stay in a local hotel for two nights while they processed the clearance procedure. On the day of embarkation, half of the group wanted to take a flight going inland to join one of our cruises and the rest determined to continue the voyage.
The Majestic Interior of the Ship
Finally, our sail began in the absence of the management team on board, which made the service a mess and nowhere near the regular standards of Pandaw. Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, the time on the sea went pretty smoothly just like a miracle. However, such joy did not last for long. When our ship entered the port of Mergui, we continued bumping into troubles. This time, the officers at the port did not accept the ship’s international classification as a “pleasure yacht” and insisted that it was a sea-going ship and, as a consequence, short of necessary strict certifications for sea-going ships. There was no sign that they would be persuaded by what we said and we realized that the ship might be kept there forever, so we decided to take the remaining guests to Yangon from there. Meanwhile, the original Detroit Diesel generator dated from 1963 stopped working, so we were forced to make our disembarkation there.
With the help from our insurance agencies, international maritime lawyers and several acquaintances in Yangon, the ship was set free after two weeks of capture and traveled to Yangon. It would take several months for the new generator particularly designed for the ship to be manufactured in China. Therefore, we decided to call off all voyages until January and take advantage of these three months to carry out further refurbishment while waiting for the completion of the new generators. When the restoration was finished, the ship started to take shape and was much more well-functioned than when it was in Thailand. Despite the war zone in Northern Myanmar, the generators were still delivered in time. In order to replace the old generators with the new ones, the ship was dry-docked and slashed open below the waterline. Everything went accordingly to our planned schedule and we were making good progress.
Simple but Elegant Decoration Style Inside a Cabin
In the meantime, we had made up our mind to tackle the issue of the port procedures by altering the flag to that of Myanmar, and efficiently bringing her into the country. A huge sum of money was spent on this complicated process. After having made payment for excessively high import duties, the officers told that their surveyor just needed to conduct a simple procedure of inspection then our ship could set sail the following day to pick up the first guests. My wife and I even moved aboard to get ready for a departure in the early morning. Much to our disappointment, the surveyor did not come to perform the inspection. We sent some people to come to the office and request him for the whole day, but he asked for other duties. On the following days, we got the same result and this situation lasted for over one week. We had to cancel two cruises for this. In the end, after our conversation with the Transport Minister, the surveyor finally turned up. At first, we thought that it would be a swift inspection, but it turned out that he spent one month doing the survey. Even international surveyors from such company as LIoyds and ABS would just need several days at most to complete their work. In contrary, everyday our surveyor would visit a different section of the ship to inspect every single detail. Then after such a long time that we believed that we could get away, the still insisted that we had to dry-dock the ship (with the cost of 10,000 USD/time) again so that they can inspect the hull plates.
As each week passed during eight weeks, the port authorities assured us that our cruise could be operated the following week. Then their answer for our request was still ‘no’ with the conduct of consecutive surveys and bureaucratic hindrance after hindrance. In Myanmar, each rising problems would require a lot of money to be solved because the officials work behind a system of brokers and agents whose interest comes from prolonging any undertaking. Obviously, we made full refunds for all passengers whose booked cruises were canceled and offered them a free river cruise and covered the charges for additional flights or transportation. Much to our surprise, many passengers returned the refunds and donated them to the Pandaw Charity.
The Pristine Beauty of The Mergui Archipelago
At present, the Andaman Explorer has now been fully registered with adequate licenses and certifications. With the huge amount spent on refurbishment, which is three times of the amount to purchase the ship, we believe that the ship is now wholly functional and in best conditions. She is definitely the most graceful creation with lovely lines and charming curves. Nowhere else could you find another cruise ship in which all cabins are two-room suites. There are three dining areas in total, one indoor and two outdoor. All these facilities are just for serving twenty passengers. I have a belief that regardless of the terrible event that we have experienced, we now possess a fantastic cruise ship ready for wonderful voyages.
On behalf of Pandaw, I would like to express my deepest apology for the troubles that our pioneering passengers had to undergo. From the deepest part of my heart, I want to express my gratitude for their tolerance and understanding that things might not go smoothly when a new ship cruise in a new area. During 35 years of working Myanmar, 22 of which have been operating river cruises with many achievements in difficult operating environments, never have I been under such hardship to get things done like this. It is kind of ironic that the closer the country to democracy, the worse does its authorities get. Notwithstanding that fact, together with Myanmar River Cruises, the sea cruising in Myanmar is still an appealing experience. The Mergui Archipelago has over 800 islands of pristine beauty where just a few tourists have ever set foot upon. This is definitely an ideal destination for exploration.