Kurt James and Neil Dibb had an idea back in 2003 to buy and renovate a boat in Thailand to provide liveaboard cruises. The initial idea came as we were both living in Singapore with our families and working/traveling throughout Asia. We saw having a boat providing liveaboard charter trips as a great business opportunity, given the fabulous islands and bays east of Phuket and the fantastic Thai people and their ability to welcome you and provide you with an outstanding leisure experience. We opened for business in January 2005, just a month after the devastating Tsunami that hit Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. Merdeka 1, an Indonesian Phinisi, provided several different cruises, from day trips to Phi Phi to overnight cruises through Phang Nga Bay, exploring the limestone caves and Hongs. Our philosophy then and still is now – “It’s got to be fun!”
We believe we have created a business that lives up to that aspiration and has given many people worldwide probably their best holiday ever. We strive to make the experience unique and such fun that you don’t want to leave, and then if you do, return whenever you can, as many of our customers do.
We built and launched Merdeka 3 in early 2016, and Neil took up running the business full-time. We have simplified our offering to private weekend getaways for families or groups of friends and then weekday overnight liveaboard dive/snorkel trips. We think we have hit on the right formula as we have many satisfied customers with great reviews.
A crucial part of our success has been our incredible team, most of whom have been with us for many years. Addy, for example, has been with us since 2004 and now captains Merdeka 3. Merdeka 1’s Captain Min has been with us for over fifteen years as well. Both captains grew up in the islands and have a wealth of experience and local knowledge. Whenever we go on a trip, and the captain asks us where we want to go, we say “Up to you!” (a famous local saying), and we are always pleasantly surprised.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world early 2020, our bookings went from being fully booked to empty in six weeks. Kurt and Neil made a decision then that the staff would be retained and the business kept running. We have paid the staff (albeit on a reduced salary) since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do so until business returns. While the pandemic has not been fun for anyone globally, we see keeping our staff in jobs and feeding their families as an extension of our philosophy. Many businesses in Thailand have had to close down and let their staff go – we are fortunate in that we have been able to support our staff and their families through these trying times.
We are looking forward to the pandemic being beaten around the world and business getting back to normal.