Despite the industry’s successful restart, the pandemic has claimed another cruise line

Oct 26, 2021

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Add riverboat operator Pandaw to the list of cruise companies that are shutting down for good due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Southeast Asia cruise specialist, which operated 17 vessels on rivers in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar as well as India, has posted a notice on its website and social media pages saying it’s out of business.

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“Pandaw regrets to announce that due to the continuing COVID-19 impact on international leisure travel, the closure of its destinations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and India, and the critical political situation in Myanmar, the company has no alternative but to cease its river cruise operations,” the company said in the notice.

Pandaw cited a “lack of financial liquidity and failure to find additional funding in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Founded in 1995, Pandaw was one of the great pioneers of Southeast Asia river cruises. It was the first company to offer multinight river voyages in Myanmar on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, and it was one of the biggest operators of river cruises on the Mekong River in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

In addition to operating riverboats in Southeast Asia under the Pandaw name, the company operated vessels in the region at times for such well-known river cruise brands as Avalon Waterways and Viking.

Pandaw was known for lovely, hand-crafted brass-and-teak vessels built by local craftspeople that mimicked the look of Colonial-era riverboats in Southeast Asia. The vessels — all intimate in size — were purposely built with ultra-shallow drafts that allowed them to travel to remote parts of the region that bigger river cruise vessels couldn’t reach.

Each of the ships typically carried between 30 and 50 passengers.

The family-owned company was founded by Paul Strachan, a Scottish historian with a love of Myanmar. He started the business by rebuilding an original Scotland-built steamer that had operated on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. The steamer had once sailed for the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, an iconic, Scottish-founded riverboat company that operated in Myanmar with hundreds of vessels from 1865 through World War II.

“This is a very sad moment for me, my family, our crews and clients. It marks the end of an era for all of us after [25] years of real adventure,” Strachan said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “We are truly sorry to disappoint our regular passengers who were so looking forward to making a trip after the lifting of travel restrictions.”

A Pandaw river cruise vessel tied up along a river in Southeast Asia. (Photo courtesy of Pandaw)

Strachan added that he also was “heartbroken for our [300] plus crew members and shoreside personnel who have stood by Pandaw and were hoping to get going again next year”.

In its notice of shutting down, Pandaw said that forward bookings for a restart in 2022 remained strong. But it said the company “lacks the funding to continue layup operations of their [17] ships for another year, and then undergo essential refurbishment to prepare for renewed operations, the timing of which is highly uncertain,” even if sailings could resume by the 2022/2023 winter season.

Related: Small sailing ship company is latest cruise brand to shut down

Pandaw said it had tried to find new investors or other forms of finance to carry it through the pandemic without success.

At least seven other cruise operators — four in Europe, two in North America and one in India — have announced over the past 18 months that they’re going out of business or filing for the equivalent of bankruptcy due to financial troubles related to the coronavirus outbreak. Like Pandaw, most were small cruise companies. But the list includes Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which had been the second-largest cruise brand in the U.K.

While cruising has resumed in large parts of North America and Europe in recent months, it remains mostly shut down in a wide swath of Asia due to concerns about COVID-19.

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Featured image courtesy of Pandaw.

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