January 17th, 2014
Cancellations due to the Tsunami -
After the tsunami struck we have tried to keep you informed about how things are here, but we realize that words can not fully describe what we experience.
For we who still remain here, we feel that we only now begin to grasp the enormity of the huge loss of lives, the countless personal tragedies, injuries and the material damages. Whilst we initially tried to cope with the situation on a day-to-day basis by being active, trying to help as best we could we now feel the total emptiness and silence which surround us.
Now most of the physical signs of the disaster are gone and things are gradually getting back to normal on Phuket Island except for the fact that there are hardly any tourists left on the island. At Kao Lak, however, the devastation is such that it is impossible to describe. At Kao Lak it will take years for the area to recover.
Since we wrote to you on January 3rd about the initial effect the tsunami had on our booking situation, things have gone from bad to worse: During the last two weeks we have received many more cancellations whilst no more bookings have come in. We would like to say that we fully understand why our guests dont wish to come for a diving holiday just now, so early after this terrible disaster. As we wrote to you on January 3rd, we were afraid that we might have to cancel all the cruises for the remainder of this High Season. All the additional cancellations we have now received have forced us to accept the fact that it will not be possible for us to continue our cruises to the Similans until the next High Season starts in October. Needless to say; this is a terrible blow to all of us who are engaged in the Viking-project both onboard and ashore. How we shall be able to cope with the situation is still uncertain, but we will do our very best to find solutions that will enable all our employees to receive the income that is needed to sustain a decent life, for themselves and their families. In this regard we would like to express our great appreciation and thankfulness to those of you who have contributed to the fund for this crisis, ref. our mail of January 3rd below. Any further financial support that any of you may feel able to provide will of course be much appreciated.
To those who will be directly affected by the cancellations, we would like to say that all our guests will get full refunds for payments that have been made - unless the guests are willing help to us through these cruises by making re-booking for a departure to the Similans next season. As refunds to our guests will not be made from the humanitarian crisis funds that we receive, we will have to wait until we receive a special loan from the Government earmarked for such refunds to guests. This will take some time; probably a few weeks. We will send a separate email to everybody affected requesting bank account information etc.
Finally, please be aware that we still receive hundreds of mails on a daily basis which makes it impossible for us to send proper personal reply as soon as we would have like to. Under these very difficult circumstances we hope for your understanding and do apologize for any inconvenience such delays might create. We will keep you informed as things develop here.
On behalf of all the crew and staff on the Viking, once again thank you very much for your understanding and moral and financial support!
Similan Islands, January 9th, 2014
The effects of the Tsunami on the Similan Island A preliminary report:
We are now on our way back to Phuket after having been at sea the last few days. In addition to doing our own evaluation at all the dive sites where we normally visit during our cruises, we have assisted Thailands National Park Authorities in a large search and evaluation operation around the Similan Islands, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. We are truly impressed by the Park Authorities rapid initiative and the way they organized this operation, which ended yesterday. With a chartered cruise ship at their disposal Andaman Princess as their base, approximately 100 officials, professional divers and marine biologists stayed at the Similans for a few days, after having first been at Racha Yai, South of Phuket. Most of the participants were volunteers from Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket; primarily Thai but also many Japanese instructors doing an excellent job. This operation was organized parallel to the search and recovery operations undertaken in the area by the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force.
With reference to the results of the actual search and recovery operations I find it correct to only refer to public announcements made available through the embassies and the media. I would value your understanding with respect to the fact that in this report to you I will refrain from referring to observations other than to the evaluation of the effects that the Tsunami has had on nature itself.
A comprehensive, official report on the effects of the tsunami below sea level is now being prepared for submission to the National Park authorities in Bangkok early next week. As soon as their findings become public we will post a link from our website to the governments website where you may study the result of this official evaluation. From what we could observe onboard Andaman Princess, the way the search and evaluation operation was planned and executed was very thorough, methodical and professional.
Personally, I was most impressed.
During the operation the entire coastline of the Similan Islands was inspected by teams of divers reporting their findings to the administration onboard Andaman Princess. Most or all teams recorded their findings on UW-video and by photos. We believe that such visual UW-recordings will be made available to the general public on the Internet.
As an official report will be made public very soon I will not make any specific comments as to our own observations under sea level, other than to say in very general terms - that the 7 Viking-employed PADI instructors & divemasters who have dived at 14 different dive sites, all agree that we may look forward to many more successful seasons onboard the Viking - cruising and diving these wonderful waters - just like we have done in the past.
As to the damages created on the islands nature above the sea level we view these to be minor and without lasting impact. Some of the National Park facilities were damaged, some totally destroyed. Most of the shoreline, including the beaches, remains relatively unaffected. The damages seem to be limited to some of the beaches where smaller trees and bushes have been washed away and branches of larger trees broken off. Even though a clean-up operation is now needed in order to remove all the debris that has washed ashore, we are certain that few visitors will be able to see any effects of the tsunami whilst walking along the beaches and in the rainforest when the next high season starts in October.
We have taken photos and have chosen to upload some of these images on our website, so that you may make your own judgment.
We will revert to you with further information as soon as possible.
On behalf of all crew and staff onboard the Viking,
The Tsunami Disaster January 3rd, 2014.
I am now back in Phuket having flown from Oslo with the Norwegian Air Force on their fourth ambulance flight, which arrived here midday yesterday, January 2nd.
I personally now feel that it would be prudent to realize that it will be nearly impossible to continue our Viking-operations during the remaining months of January, February and March possibly the whole season. Most of the divers who made their bookings long time ago for Viking-cruises have had to cancel their vacations leaving less than a handful of guests per departure - compared to a situation with near of fully booked departures for the whole season, prior to the tsunami. New bookings are difficult to anticipate under the current situation and I therefore feel it necessary to make decisions now, so that our guests can plan their re-bookings accordingly.
We do not wish to create a situation where guests who arrive in Phuket have to face a cancellation due to our inability to support continued operations. Therefore, I have decided to initially cancel all departures in January as from the January 10th, VO64. Whether we will have to cancel further departures remains to be seen. We will advice you as soon as we are able to make a final decision effecting the remaining part of the season. Such a decision will be made no later than January 15th at which stage we will notify you.
To those of you who will be affected by the cancellations of the cruises in January, and possibly for the remainder part of the season, and who have already made payments, we would ask that you kindly exercise patience until we are able to make any necessary refunds. The way you can best help us now is to wait and re-book at a later date for a future departure next season or whenever is suitable for you. We thank you for your understanding and support.
We will do our best to maintain support for all our crew and staff until such time as normal operations can re-commence. Most of the crew will be sent home with reduced salaries, but at a level that can sustain their families.
We have received several requests from friends to give an account number to which crisis donations can be sent. I have decided to use a new account in my name as we do not want such funds to come into the company accounts which would automatically incur company VAT and tax liabilities. For those of you who wish to make a donation to this crisis fund whether small or large please be aware that funds that will be received here will be spent as I personally feel to be prudent and that these funds will not be subject to audit as all or most payments will be made in cash. The funds will be used to support the people closely linked to the Viking operations, and their families, and others whom I personally feel will need emergency support.
Please feel free to forward this message to any of your/our diving friends or to others who might be interested in our situation just now. It is difficult for us to reach everybody and we will appreciate your help in forwarding this message.
On behalf of all our crew, staff and myself I would like to once again express our gratitude for all concern and support given us during this difficult time. We all hope to see you here with us when things will back to normal.
Best regards from
December 31st, 2004.
I write this message to you whilst onboard an aircraft chartered by the Norwegian Air Force which is bringing survivors from Phuket Int. Airport back to Oslo, Norway.
I am personally safe and unhurt and will return to Phuket tomorrow. We left Phuket a few hours ago, on the eve of December 31st. We will land at Oslo Airport early in the morning of the first day of the New Year. At Oslo Airport ambulances will be waiting to bring survivors to hospitals. This is the second such flight that the Norwegian Air Force has done out of Phuket since the rescue operations started. A third flight is presently on its way from Oslo and has probably passed us by now. A fourth flight is scheduled for later departure.
The Air Force crew is doing a fantastic job here whilst representatives of the Norwegian Embassy and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are doing their very best under the most difficult circumstances at the hospitals and hotels where the survivors are brought. The same kind of help is given by representatives from many other countries.
I know that there is no need for me to describe the devastation that was created by the tsunami; you have all seen it on your TV-screens. Walking around in the effected areas witnessing the situation first hand makes one speechless.
The disaster has effected all of us in Phuket, some more than others. All our guests, crew and staff who were onboard the Viking when the tsunami reached the coast of Thailand are as we have reported earlier safe and unhurt, as is everybody else working with us ashore. However, even though we are all safe and unhurt, most of us working in Viking Liveaboards have lost friends and relatives. Kuhn Nan, one of our wonderful cleaning ladies onboard the Viking, lost four close family members when their house on the beach of Kamala was washed away. Mike has lost 8 friends from his former job in Kao Lak.
Needless to say, it is an incredible tough time for all of us just now. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to be unhurt the challenge is now to try to assist those who desperately need help.
What the future will bring is most uncertain. Just now our priorities are to help the best we can and to ensure that we act in a manner that is prudent under the circumstances. We will do our best to keep you informed about what will happen and how we will proceed when the overall situation will be clearer to us. Please be aware that we have experienced great difficulties with communications as the use of telephones in and out of Phuket has been and still is nearly impossible due to overload of the networks. This problem seems to be somewhat reduced now, but we do not expect things to be back to normal for quite some time. For this reason, even inter-company communication on Phuket Island - between our office and crew and staff has been very difficult, sometimes impossible.
Finally, on behalf of our crew, staff and myself I would like to express our deeply felt appreciation for the overwhelming kindness and support shown us during these very difficult days. We have received many hundred of emails expressing concern for our safety, as well as with offers of help in various ways. Due to the very difficult situation here it has not been possible for us to reply to each and one of you personally, which is why I send you this email. Even though we are unhurt and physically well, the help that we have received is highly appreciated. It has been very valuable.
I wish you all the very best for the New Year.
December 31st, 2004.