Cruise

Pandaw Ganges river crash raises questions about ambitious itineraries

A passenger onboard a Pandaw river vessel travelling the Ganges that crashed into a pontoon has questioned whether passengers are being put at risk by ambitious itineraries.

Late last week, the Kindat Pandaw ripped a pontoon bridge off its hinges at Patna, which forced passengers to evacuate the vessel and saw bystanders run in fear and panic.

According to a passenger onboard, the crew “apparently” had no knowledge of the bridge, one among many other sections of pontoons that are relied on by commuters to cross the Ganges.

Sunday Times cruise editor Sue Bryant, who was on board the vessel at the time, questions whether passengers are being put at risk by “ever more ambitious itineraries” from river cruise companies.

“It was only when the crowd of locals stopped smiling and waving, and began to flee, that I realised something was wrong,” Bryant writes for The Times. “The boat I was on, the 187ft Kindat Pandaw, had collided with a pontoon bridge and was dragging it along, threatening to plunge bystanders into the surging Ganges.

“As those on land sprinted clear, one of our crew started yelling at me and my fellow passengers to get away from the side and grab our life jackets. I shoved my laptop and passport into my bag and ran to the muster station, where people were clambering into the tender,” she said.

“Others who were convinced the ship, right, was sinking fussed over their things. It was all pretty alarming.”

River cruise companies are under constant pressure to do something “novel”, Bryant says, including taking expeditions on new rivers, and at times of year when water levels may be lower.

“Clearly, though, there needs to be a balance between servicing people’s sense of adventure and desire for novelty, and ensuring their safety.”

She said that while she had “loved the Pandaw experience, albeit brief”, Pandaw was the only company prepared to attempt sailing into Varanasi from Kolkata in low water along the Ganges.

In a statement, Pandaw Group Founder Paul Strachan confirmed the incident. He claims the collision was “very minor” and the hull had been holed above the water line.

“At no point were passengers at risk and they were disembarked only as a precaution,” Strachan said. “On Pandaw remote river expeditions such adventures are part of the course and part of the adventure as any seasoned Pandaw traveller will attest.”

Strachan’s assessment differs from what those on board had to say about the incident.

“Seriously? I’m sorry, but this was not par for the course, assuming that’s what Mr Strachan meant,” Bryant reported for River Cruise Passenger.

Bryant says the crew of the Kindat Pandaw “apparently” had no knowledge of the pontoon bridges, which are put up seasonally when the river is low enough.

“Given that we could only cross at night, briefly, as night sailing wasn’t permitted for our boat, we would never have made Varanasi with six more bridges to cross.”

Featured image: Kindat Pandaw collides with a Ganges pontoon bridge (@sjbryant/Twitter)

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