Goodbye AGIOS GEORGIOS, PANAGIA TINOU
Above as the AGIOS GEORGIOS, below as the PANAGIA TINOU. The last two names the ship bore, and the only ones under which I was able to photograph this historical ferry.
How should I begin writing this post? A ship with so much history, with so much acclaim?
Sadly, on 21 March 2017, the PANAGIA TINOU of Ventouris Sea Lines, also known in Greek waters as the ROMILDA, the APOLLON EXPRESS 2, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI (having had this name under two different occasions), the EXPRESS ARTEMIS or the AGIOS GEORGIOS, left the port of Piraeus for the last time, being towed to the scrapyard of Aliağa in Turkey, in order to be demolished. This date marked the end of a legendary career for this ferry, after 45 years of service, with 25 of them being spent on the Aegean Sea, and the last two of them kept her permanently in the E4 gate of the port of Piraeus, as she was laid-up during her last two years of service due to her final owner's economic difficulties.
With the departure of the PANAGIA TINOU, the Greek coastal service lost one of its greatest-ever members, as the ship's longevity, reliable and comfortable service were widely acclaimed on the Aegean Sea, and especially on the Cyclades Islands, where she mostly operated. In the early 2010s, the ship would still successfully operate on the Cyclades, thus reminding older travelers of her glorious 1990s services, and showing to younger travelers (including myself) what this period of time looked like. And indeed, she is a member of a legendary trio known as the H-Class on the Channel and as the Apollon Trio in Greece, consisting of her and her two sister ships, which also went on to have spectacular careers on the Cyclades. Indeed, the trio's name is due to the fact that two of the three ferries (including the PANAGIA TINOU) bore the name APOLLON in the early stages of their stint in Greece. The other two ships are none other than the PENELOPE A of Agoudimos Lines and the APOLLON EXPRESS of Ventouris Sea Lines (later the APOLLON EXPRESS 1, and then the EXPRESS APOLLON of Agapitos Express Ferries, Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins and Hellenic Seaways). The three ships were, during the 1990s and up until the early 2010s, among the greatest ships in the Greek coastal service, serving some of the most historical companies in the history of the Aegean Sea. With the loss of the PANAGIA TINOU, only the PENELOPE A remains alive today (as the EXPRESS APOLLON was scrapped in 2010), but even she seems to be nearing the end, as Agoudimos Lines ceased operations in 2014, and she has since been laid-up in the Elefsina Bay, awaiting her fate.
Just like my Farewell Post on the JET FERRY 1 of GA Ferries dating from January 2016, this post is dedicated to the ship's entire career, from the beginning to the end, including her first 20 years which were spent on the Channel. To sum it up, the ship was, during her 45 years of service, a great asset for all of her owners, and became a favourite amongst travelers, both on the Channel and in Greece, despite the important competition she faced, the few major accidents she had, and despite her companies' occasional economic difficulties. If we take a look at her Greek career, however, she had a different path than the one of her two sister ships (despite all operating together at some point). Indeed, the other two ships had more stable operations, as the PENELOPE A successfully spent her entire Greek career on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, and the APOLLON EXPRESS/EXPRESS APOLLON remained on the demanding Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line from 1988 to 2002, despite changing different owners. On the contrary, the PANAGIA TINOU went to dozens of different lines over time, had a total of 7 different names (the most by any ship in the history of the Greek coastal service to date), operated under four different owners, and, for most of her career, did not operate on a line for a constant period of time. The sole exception was during her final years, when she permanently operated on the Western Cyclades from 2005 to 2014 as the AGIOS GEORGIOS (which is the name she held for the longest amount of time in Greece: for 11 years out of her 25 years overall). But this did not prevent her from successfully operating on any line where she was deployed, and it even seemed that she would continue to operate for many more years, despite her becoming one of the oldest ferries in Greece. However, the Greek economic crisis had other plans in mind, and her final company, Ventouris Sea Lines, was unable to remain economically stable, and this caused the ship's lay-up, partial sinking, and eventual demolition. But her legacy will carry on, and her history, which I am about to present, will not be forgotten.
The PANAGIA TINOU was ordered in 1970 as one of three ferries planned to be operated on the Chanel by the British state-owned company Sealink, which was the brandname of the train/ferry provider British Railways. The British Government-owned company, already known for connecting the United Kingdom with France, Belgium and The Netherlands, also served as a consortium operating all ferry services ran by the Channel train and car companies, such as the French SNCF (which owned the late EPTANISOS and DELOS of Strintzis Lines, or the future EXPRESS SANTORINI of Agapitos Express Ferries, Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins and Hellenic Seaways), the Belgian Regie voor Maritiem Transport, also known as RMT (which owned the late AIGAION of Agapitos Lines, the PANAGIA TINOU's future fleetmate GEORGIOS EXPRESS; the late BARI EXPRESS of Ventouris Ferries; the PANAGIA TINOU's future fleetmate, the PANAGIA TINOU 2/EXPRESS ATHINA, or even the future SUPERFERRY II of Strintzis Lines, Blue Star Ferries and Golden Star Ferries), and the Dutch Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (which owned the PANAGIA TINOU's future fleetmate, the original PANAGIA TINOU).
The three ferries were built at the Arsenal de la Marine Nationale Française shipyard in the French port of Brest. The first two were planned to operate on the Boulogne-Folkestone line, thus becoming the first-ever ferries in the history of the British port to connect it with France. The reason to operate the ferries on this line was in order to provide alternative ferry service on the Channel, as the traffic was only present on the popular Calais-Dover line at the time. Folkestone was still an important port, yet it lacked ferries prior to the delivery of Sealink's newbuildings. Apart from the Folkestone plans, the company sought to operate the ships on the Irish Sea once the Channel Tunnel project, which at the time had been approved for construction, would be finished (though, ironically, the tunnel was not completed until a year after the ferries left the Channel in order to continue their careers in Greece). The first two ferries were delivered to Sealink in 1972, under the names of HENGIST (the late PANAGIA TINOU) and HORSA (the future PENELOPE A), which were the names of two brothers said to have led the Anglo-Saxons to Great Britain during the 5th century. The pair of ships began operations on the Boulogne-Folkestone line immediately afterwards. The last ship, named SENLAC (the future APOLLON EXPRESS/EXPRESS APOLLON) was delivered a year later, in 1973, but was instead deployed on the Dieppe-Newhaven line. All three ships were registered in London, under the British flag.
The HENGIST shortly after her launching ceremony in Brest, in 1972. Picture taken by Ray Thornton, published on www.hhvferry.com.
The HENGIST in Folkestone, during her debut season. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com.
An aerial view of the HENGIST on the Channel, during her early career. Picture taken by Ray Thornton, published on www.hhvferry.com.
One of the ship's most famous features: the HENGIST mural, located in the staircase leading from Deck 5 to Deck 6. It was designed by Czech sculptor Franta Belsky. The central figure represents the legendary Anglo-Saxon warrior Hengist standing on a horse and carrying a golden sword. Belsky designed similar murals on the HORSA and on the SENLAC. Picture from www.nautilia.gr.
The first sister ship of the HENGIST, the HORSA, shortly after she was launched in 1972. The ship went on to become the STENA HORSA (1991-1992), and then the PENELOPE A for Agoudimos Lines (1992-1999), the EXPRESS PENELOPE for Hellas Ferries (1999-2004), and again the PENELOPE A for Agoudimos Lines (2004-present), though she has been permanently laid-up since 2014. She and the HENGIST spent their first two decades together on the Boulogne-Folkestone line, before both setting off for Greece in 1992. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com.
The second sister ship of the HENGIST, and the youngest ferry of the trio: the SENLAC. Despite also being part of the Sealink fleet, she was the odd sister, as she was alone on the Dieppe-Newhaven line, rather than on the Boulogne-Folkestone line. Note also that her funnel did not feature the Sealink logo, instead carrying a logo of a joint venture between the British company and the French company SNCF. The ship was the first one of the trio to depart the Channel for Greece, something that she did in 1987 after being acquired by Ventouris Sea Lines (future owners of the HENGIST). She became known as the APOLLON EXPRESS (1987-1992) and as the APOLLON EXPRESS 1 (1992-1996) during her VSL years, and then as the EXPRESS APOLLON for Agapitos Express Ferries (1996-1999) and for Hellas Ferries and Hellenic Seaways (1999-2007), before ending her career as the APOLLON for European Seaways (2007-2010). Therefore, she also became the first ship of the trio to be sold for scrap. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com.
Another aerial picture of the HENGIST as she sails on the Channel. Note the forward windows she had earlier in her career, which were then covered throughout most of her spells on both the Channel and the Aegean Sea. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com by Matt Murtland.
The HENGIST leaving the port of Dover during the late 1970s, presumably operating on the Calais-Dover line while one of her fleetmates would undergo her annual winter refit. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com by Matt Murtland.
The HENGIST docking in the port of Folkestone, in a typical 1970s British car ferry terminal, which was purposely built for her and for the HORSA. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com.
The introduction of the HENGIST and of the HORSA dramatically transformed the port of Folkestone into a ferry hub, and also gave the chance for French travelers from the Southern Nord-Pas-De-Calais region to avoid going all the way up North to the port of Calais. The ferries became popular amongst both Boulogne and Folkestone residents, and provided full-time reliable service. During their first years of operation, they were seen as the most modern and luxurious ferries on the Channel, while also providing excellent overnight service. The HENGIST would normally be seen sailing on the Boulogne-Folkestone line for most of the year, except during a few weeks throughout the winter, during which she would operate on other Sealink routes, in order to replace her fleetmates that would undergo their annual refits. These included the Ostend-Folkestone line and the Boulogne-Dover line. The HENGIST herself usually underwent her refit in Dunkirk. The only low point of her early Sealink career was in 1980, when she was involved in a collision with the vehicle carrier CANABAL of Hoegh-Ugland Autoliners near Calais. Fortunately, both ships suffered little damage, and the HENGIST was quickly repaired and put back to service.
The HENGIST colliding with the CANABAL off the port of Calais in 1980. Picture taken by Ray Thornton, published on www.doverferryphotosforums.co.uk.
Things seemed to be going normally for the HENGIST and for her company in the early 1980s, as the ship completed her first decade of operations and continued to provide excellent service on the Boulogne-Folkestone line. However, in 1984, Sealink was privatised, following its sale from the British Government to the company Sea Containers. The company therefore became known as Sealink British Ferries, and their ferries changed their liveries, abandoning the dark blue hull for an all-white hull. The HENGIST and the HORSA continued to operate on the Boulogne-Folkestone line, while the SENLAC, which had been laid-up for two years due to various strikes performed by her crew (due to disagreements between British Railways and SNCF), was sold to SNCF, operating under the Sealink Dieppe Ferries banner. She returned to the Dieppe-Newhaven line, until she was sold to the Greek company Ventouris Sea Lines in 1987.
The HENGIST underwent a major refit in 1985, during which her aft bridge was removed and her interior was renovated. She continued to operate successfully throughout the 1985 and 1986 seasons. However, the year 1987 was an unsuccessful one for the ferry. Indeed, a few days after the ferry HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE of rival operator Townsend Thoresen sank, the HENGIST collided with a trawler in Boulogne, which resulted in the latter’s sinking, and also in the tragic death of 3 fishermen that were part of the trawler's crew. Furthermore, six months later, the ship was a victim of the Great Storm of 1987, when she grounded off near Folkestone, due to rough weathers and due to losing her electrical power. She was forced to beach at the Warren Beach (near Folkestone) after being struck by a large wave. She remained there for a week, until she was finally salvaged and towed for repair. She returned to service only four months later, in January 1988, resuming her operations on the Boulogne-Folkestone line alongside the HORSA.
The HENGIST seen on the Channel in 1984, shortly after changing her livery following the sale of Sealink to Sea Containers. Picture taken by Matt Murtland and published on www.doverferryphotosforums.co.uk.
The HENGIST in 1985, now with her company’s name being written on her hull. She is seen on the Channel, shortly following her major refit, in which you can note the removal of the aft bridge. Picture taken by Matt Murtland and published on www.hhvferry.com.
One of the HENGIST’s career's lowlights, as she is seen grounded off in the Warren Beach in 1987, after being struck by a large wave during the Great Storm of 1987. Picture taken by Ray Thornton and published on www.hhvferry.com.
One of the HENGIST’s career's lowlights, as she is seen grounded off in the Warren Beach in 1987, after being struck by a large wave during the Great Storm of 1987. This picture shows the successful salvaging operation which helped bring the ship back to sea. Picture taken by Ray Thornton and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The late 1980s were not a successful period for the Channel ferry service. Indeed, the disaster of the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE and the highly-anticipated completion of the Channel Tunnel contributed to the decrease of popularity of the ferry operations in the area. Furthermore, Sealink British Ferries faced a new dangerous competitor: P&O European Ferries, Townsend Thoresen’s successor, who introduced newbuildings which heavily favoured freight service, and were therefore preferred to the more classic Sealink ferries. Sealink British Ferries therefore lost an important amount of profit over these years, despite being the sole operators on some lines, including the Boulogne-Folkestone line. For the 1990 season, the two ships were also joined by the younger ferry ST ANSELM (previously operating on the Calais-Dover line), which went on to become the BARI of Greek company Ventouris Ferries when she was bought by them in 2010. Finally, in 1991, Sea Containers decided to sell the company to Swedish giants Stena Line, thus creating a new company called Sealink Stena Line. This resulted in all Sealink ferries receiving the 'STENA' prefix in their respective names, so the HENGIST and the HORSA were respectively renamed STENA HENGIST and STENA HORSA. Both ships continued to operate on the Boulogne-Folkestone line until the end of 1991, when the line was discontinued by their company. The ships quickly disappeared from Stena Line’s plans, and were therefore listed for sale for the first time in their careers. At the same time, their sister ship, the ex-SENLAC, now operating as the APOLLON EXPRESS for Ventouris Sea Lines, had become the most successful ferry on the Cyclades, becoming the jewel of the demanding Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line. Due to her success, Greek companies sought to acquire her ostracised sister ships. The HENGIST spent her final days under Sealink Stena Line on the Irish Sea during the winter of 1991-1992, operating on the Holyhead-Dún Laoghaire line as well as on the Stranraer-Larne line, in order to cover her fleetmates that were undergoing their winter refits. Finally, in 1992, her sale to the Greek coastal service company GA Ferries was officially announced, marking the end of her Channel career, after 20 very successful years.
The STENA HENGIST seen on the Channel, during the summer of 1991, which turned out to be the ship’s last summer in the area, before leaving for her new Greek adventure. Picture taken by Fotoflite and published on www.doverferryphotosforums.co.uk.
The STENA HENGIST seen in Folkestone in 1991 alongside her sister ship, the HORSA, prior to her name change to STENA HORSA. This year turned out to be the final one for both ships on the Boulogne-Folkestone line, as the line was discontinued in 1992, with both ferries’ futures being temporarily in doubt. Picture taken by Matt Murtland and published on www.hhvferry.com.
GA Ferries, a company you know very well thanks to the JET FERRY 1 Farewell Tribute post, was a company established by the Greek shipowner Gerasimos Agoudimos in 1988. His initials made-up the company’s name. He quickly emerged as one the leading forces of the Greek coastal service in only his first year, operating the successfully-converted Japanese-built ferries, the MILENA and the DALIANA, on the Cyclades, the Northeast Aegean Sea, Crete and the Dodecanese. He further strengthened his company by adding three more ferries in 1989 and 1990: the DIMITRA (one of the STENA HENGIST’s former Sealink fleetmates, under which she operated through the names AILSA PRINCESS from 1971 to 1985 and EARL HAROLD from 1985 to 1989, mainly on the Stranraer-Larne line and on the Holyhead-Dún Laoghaire line on the Irish Sea), and another pair of converted Japanese-built ferries, the RODANTHI (which became the company’s flagship) and the MARINA (which only entered service in 1994, after four years conversion in Perama). The STENA HENGIST therefore became the sixth member of the GA Ferries fleet. She arrived in Greece, was converted in Perama (during which her stern was largely modified, this being highlighted by the addition of outdoor passenger decks), and changed her port of registry from London to Piraeus. She was renamed ROMILDA, which is not a common Greek name, but rather a combination of the first letters of her three fleetmates' names (RODANTHI, MILENA and DALIANA).
At the same time, the STENA HORSA was also bought by a shipowner named Agoudimos, though it was not by Gerasimos, but by his brother Dimitris, owner of the company Agoudimos Lines. The ship received a partially-similar conversion than that of her sister ship (though her lower stern deck was covered by an indoor passenger area) and was renamed PENELOPE A (named after Dimitris Agoudimos’ daughter, Penelope). She replaced the elder ferry KAPETAN ALEXANDROS on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, where she would go on to become one of the greatest ferries in the history of Greek coastal service.
Going back to the ROMILDA, the latter’s conversion ended right in time before the high season began, and she was deployed on the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Amorgos-Patmos-Kalymnos-Kos-Nisyros-Tilos-Symi-Rhodes-Karpathos-Kasos-Siteia-Milos line. It was a long and difficult lifeline, but this did not prevent the ship from being very successful during her first year in Greek waters. Her large size and modern accommodation impressed Dodecanese residents, while Paros and Naxos travelers noted her similarities with the APOLLON EXPRESS. During the season, she notably collaborated with the DALIANA, which operated on a similar service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Santorini-Heraklion-Kasos-Karpathos-Rhodes line (which she also repeated in 1993). Though her service contributed to GA Ferries’ successful 1992 season, she was surprisingly sold the following year to another Greek company, with this one being now very familiar to readers: Ventouris Sea Lines.
One of the most unique pictures in the history of the Greek coastal service. This the ROMILDA having just arrived in Piraeus for the first time. As you can see, the conversion has not started and the ship still had her previous Sealink all-white livery, though her new name and her new flag were already introduced. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published in 2001 to the shipping magazine 'Argo', as well as on www.doverferryhotosforums.co.uk.
The ROMILDA shortly before entering service with GA Ferries, during the final stages of her conversion in Perama. Note the upgrade she received on her stern. Picture taken by Rod Seville and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
A brochure advertising the ROMILDA’s itinerary schedule for the 1992 summer season. The islands of Paros, Patmos, Kalymnos, Kos, Rhodes, Naxos, Nisyros, Tilos and Symi are mentioned, though the other destinations served by the ship, such as Amorgos, Milos, Siteia and especially Kasos and Karapthos are not mentioned at all. Her company also promotes the ship’s luxurious cabins (featuring A/Cs), comfortable lounge areas, bars and multi-decked garage. The company then proceeds to presenting a high quality service that is friendly to passengers. And indeed, the ROMILDA made sure to keep their promises. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The ROMILDA during her first year on the Aegean Sea. Picture taken by Niles Wegener and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The ROMILDA left the GA Ferries fleet in 1993. She was subsequently replaced by another former Channel ferry: the FREE ENTERPRISE VIII of Townsend Thoresen and later of the PRIDE OF CANTERBURY of P&O European Ferries (therefore a former competitor). The ship was converted and went on to become the second ship to be named ROMILDA. She remained with the company until 2011, when she was sold for scrap following GA Ferries’ bankruptcy.
Now it is time to introduce the new owners of the ROMILDA. Ventouris Sea Lines was among the most famous companies in the Greek coastal service during the early 1990s. It was founded in 1976 by Kimolos-native Konstantinos Ventouris, who along with his four sons bought the small passenger ship AGIOS GEORGIOS. They then bought the original FREE ENTERPRISE I of Townsend Thoresen, and operated her successfully on the Western Cyclades under the name KIMOLOS. But their most successful acquisition was that of the former RMT ferry ROI BAUDOUIN in 1983, which went on to become the legendary GEORGIOS EXPRESS, considered by many to be the greatest ship in the history of the Greek coastal service (though the PANAGIA TINOU-the original one-is also a major candidate regarding that debate), and then that of the ex-SENLAC, which became the APOLLON EXPRESS in 1987 and successfully entered service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 1988. Prior to latter's debut season however, the Ventouris family split into two groups following disagreements between the four Ventouris brothers as their father retired from the coastal service sector. The two oldest sons formed the two subsequent companies: Ventouris Sea Lines remained under the control of Evangelos Ventouris (along with his younger brother Antonis), while the new company Ventouris Ferries was established by Georgios Ventouris (along with his younger brother Apostolos, who then went on to found the company AK Ventouris, later known as C-Link Ferries from 2002 to 2007). In 1990, Ventouris Sea Lines further cemented their presence on the Cyclades by buying the original PANAGIA TINOU from AK Ventouris (the company founded by Apostolos Ventouris in 1987), which had been operating for the latter for the previous three years. Before that, she operated under Ventouris Ferries between 1978 and 1987, becoming a legend on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line. Her new owners kept her on that same line, and she remained very successful.
Evangelos Ventouris saw his company become one of the leading forces in the Greek coastal service thanks to the KIMOLOS, the PANAGIA TINOU, the APOLLON EXPRESS and the GEORGIOS EXPRESS. He therefore sought to further strengthen his power by acquiring the ROMILDA in order to double the itineraries on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, as the latter ferry was a sister ship of the very successful APOLLON EXPRESS. As she was reunited with her sister ship, the ROMILDA was renamed APOLLON EXPRESS 2, while the APOLLON EXPRESS became the APOLLON EXPRESS 1. After a short refit, she began to operate on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line during the summer of 1993. Despite the high demands of that line and despite being a sort of a shadow compared to her sister ship, the APOLLON EXPRESS 2 was successful enough to satisfy her owners. The company also acquired the ship MOBY LOVE of Moby Lines (which was previously known as the PRINS PHILIPPE, a former fleetmate of the APOLLON EXPRESS 2) and renamed her PANAGIA TINOU 2, as well as the converted Ro-Ro carrier SIFNOS EXPRESS, therefore forming one of the greatest fleets to ever be assembled in the history of the Greek coastal service. The APOLLON EXPRESS 2 spent two summers on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, before being deployed on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes line in 1995, thus connecting the Western Cyclades with Crete and the Dodecanese (with the latter islands being among her destinations when she operated as the ROMILDA).
Everything seemed to go well until then end of the year 1995, when it was discovered that Ventouris Sea Lines was actually under severe economic difficulties, with huge debts that could not be repaid. This was primarily due to the high costs of the conversion that the PANAGIA TINOU 2 underwent, as well as due to the Greek stock market crash during that same year. Therefore, Evangelos Ventouris was forced to end his operations, and Ventouris Sea Lines collapsed, with all ships being laid-up in the port of Piraeus. They spent the winter of 1995-1996 abandoned in Greece’s main port (with only the PANAGIA TINOU 2 making a few trips during the summer of 1996 on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Astypalaia line), but by 1997 they had all found a new owner.
The APOLLON EXPRESS 2 preparing to maneuver in Piraeus after returning from the Cyclades Islands. Picture taken by Bernd Crause and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The APOLLON EXPRESS 2 leaving the port of Piraeus in 1994. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The great APOLLON EXPRESS 2 maneuvering in the port of Piraeus. Picture taken by Bernd Crause and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Another historical picture. It dates from approximately late 1995 to early 1996, the period during which the APOLLON EXPRESS 2 and the rest of her Ventouris Sea Lines fleetmates were all laid-up following their company’s bankruptcy. Behind the APOLLON EXPRESS 2, you can see her sister ship, the APOLLON EXPRESS 1. On her right is her former Sealink fleetmate, the PANAGIA TINOU 2. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
After a large auction being held for all the laid-up Ventouris Sea Lines ferries, four different operators emerged in order to improve their fleet. The PANAGIA TINOU (which had been renamed ARTEMIS in 1994) was sold to Minoan Cruises, where she continued her service as a one-day cruise ship operating on the Heraklion-Santorini line, on which she was already operating under VSL beginning in 1994, until she was retired in 2001 and was sold for scrap. The GEORGIOS EXPRESS resumed service in 1999 with another Ventouris subsidiary named Agios Geogios Ferries, also operating until 2001, before she was laid-up for the next eight years in Elefsina, being sold for scrap in 2009. The remaining ships were split into two different companies sharing the same name: Agapitos Lines and Agapitos Express Ferries. These two companies used to be united under the company known as Agapitos Brothers, until 1992, when the four Agapitos brothers, Ioannis, Antonis, Kostas and Vassilis, decided to operate two new companies. Vassilis and Antonis kept the original company’s fleet and renamed it Agapitos Lines, while Ioannis and Kostas created the company Agapitos Express Ferries. The latter managed to acquire the APOLLON EXPRESS 1 and the PANAGIA TINOU 2 (which joined the company in 1997), renaming them EXPRESS APOLLON and EXPRESS ATHINA, respectively, and brought them back to their VSL itineraries. Agapitos Lines, on the other hand, bought the APOLLON EXPRESS 2, and renamed her PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI (which is the name of the Holy Virgin that serves as the patron protector of the island of Paros, and is also the name of the largest church in the island).
With a new company and a new name, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI returned to service during the summer of 1996. She notably reunited with her former Sealink and GA Ferries fleetmate, the DIMITRA, which operated for Agapitos Lines under the name NAÏAS EXPRESS. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI returned to her VSL Cyclades service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, while also making additional calls to Syros during the summer. Her service was extremely successful (despite a few engine troubles). She managed to compete very well against her sister ship and former fleetmate, the EXPRESS APOLLON, while also being helped by her new fleetmate, the SUPER NAÏAS (previously known as the KRITI of ANEK Lines).
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI entering the port of Piraeus during the summer of 1997. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI approaching the port of Paros during the summer of 1997, under the livery of Agapitos Lines. These were surely among the ship’s happiest days. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen on the Saronic Gulf in 1997 or 1998, as she heads for the Cyclades Islands. In the background you can see the city of Athens and its vicinity. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
Everything, once again, seemed to go very well. Agapitos Lines was being very successful, largely thanks to the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI. However, in the end of the year 1999, the ship was part of one of the biggest changes affecting the Greek coastal service, as her company was one of the many that were acquired by Greek giants Minoan Flying Dolphins, better known today as Hellenic Seaways. The company’s charismatic manager, Pantelis Sfinias, sought to create a monopoly on the Aegean Sea by buying almost all ships operating on the Cyclades, Crete, the Dodecanese, the Northeast Aegean Sea, the Sporades and the Saronic Gulf, with most of them being owned by traditional shipping families. Combined with the upcoming deliveries of three high speed ferries (the HIGHSPEED 2, the HIGHSPEED 3 and the HIGHSPEED 4), Sfinias managed to buy all ferries/high speed craft from Agapitos Lines, Agapitos Express Ferries (and their Ro-Ro carrier division on the Adriatic Sea called Express Sea Trailers), Nomicos Lines, Arkadia Lines, Lindos Lines, Ceres Flying Dolphins, all but one from Goutos Lines, the domestic ferries of Ventouris Ferries and Agoudimos Lines, as well as the Saronic Gulf companies Lefakis Shipping, Poseidon Consortium Shipping, Maltezos Shipping and Akouriki Shipping Company. With a fleet of over 60 ships, the company became the new leading force of the Greek coastal service, with only the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI’s former owners GA Ferries (who almost joined Minoan Flying Dolphins as well, but eventually did not), NEL Lines, ANEK Lines, LANE Lines (known as LANE Sea Lines since 2006), DANE Sea Line and Strintzis Lines (which went on to become Blue Star Ferries after being acquired by Attica Group) being able to resist them. The company divided the fleet into four different operators, based on the region where they would be operating. The high speed craft all operated under the Minoan Flying Dolphins division, while ferries operating on the Cyclades, the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Dodecanese as well as the Ro-Ro carriers on the Adriatic Sea would be operated by Hellas Ferries. The ferries operating on the Saronic Gulf and on the Sporades were transferred to the subsidiaries Saronikos Ferries and Sporades Ferries, respectively. As she was a ferry coming from the Cyclades, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI joined Hellas Ferries.
The new company implemented a naming policy that was applied to almost all ferries, which followed on to the one that was introduced by Agapitos Express Ferries: using the prefix 'EXPRESS', and adding the name of a character from the Greek mythology, a name similar to the one a ship held under her previous ownership or the name of a Greek location. Therefore, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was renamed EXPRESS ARTEMIS (being named after the Greek Goddess of the moon and of the hunt, and the twin sister of Apollon). The name change was negatively received by the Paros residents, who had worshiped the name PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI. It is also unpopular for ferries bearing a name related to the Greek Orthodox Church (such as a Saint, the Holy Virgin, or a relic or a symbolic Christian location) to change their names within Greece, with this act being frequently assimilated to bad luck. Nevertheless, the ship reunited with her former Ventouris Sea Lines (and also Sealink) fleetmate and sister ship, the EXPRESS APOLLON, but also with her other sister ship and former Boulogne-Folkestone line partner, the PENELOPE A, which was renamed EXPRESS PENELOPE and continued to operate on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. She also reunited with many other former Sealink fleetmates, such as the EXPRESS MILOS (ex-VORTIGERN and ex-MILOS EXPRESS of Lindos Lines), the EXPRESS OLYMPIA (ex-EARL GRANVILLE, which was owned by Agapitos Express Ferries), the DIMITRA/NAÏAS EXPRESS (which was also her fleetmate when she was owned by GA Ferries and then by Agapitos Lines) which had become the EXPRESS ADONIS, the EXPRESS ATHINA (previously owned by Agapitos Express Ferries) and the EXPRESS SANTORINI (ex-CHARTRES, also owned previously by Agapitos Express Ferries).
The EXPRESS ARTEMIS spent her first season with her new owners on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini-Anafi line, operating along with her sister ship, the EXPRESS APOLLON, and also along with the EXPRESS SANTORINI and the EXPRESS POSEIDON (previously her competitor, as she was the POSEIDON EXPRESS 2 of Arkadia Lines). They all operated successfully, and, along with the four 'Highspeeds', contributed to a reliable and easily accessible service on the Cyclades. However, the year 2000 ended on a disastrous note, as the EXPRESS ARTEMIS’ fleetmate (and previously her Agapitos Lines fleetmate), the EXPRESS SAMINA (ex-GOLDEN VERGINA), tragically sank in Paros on 26 September 2000, resulting in the loss of 81 people. The entire country of Greece was shocked by the events. Just two days later, the EXPRESS ARTEMIS herself nearly found trouble, as she suffered a blackout in Naxos, while carrying more than 1000 passengers. As a result, all ships were arrested on a national scale, with many of them being laid-up until they would meet safety requirements. The EXPRESS ARTEMIS was cleared to sail again, but other fleetmates were forced to end their services on a permanent basis. Her company was seriously hit by all these events, and the final straw came when Pantelis Sfinias committed suicide by jumping from the rooftop of the company’s office building in Piraeus. Despite all the chaos, the company continued to be active, and, in 2001, the EXPRESS ARTEMIS was renamed PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI once again (following the protests made by the residents of Paros, and also because her previous name was believed to have superstitiously contributed to bad luck). She was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini line, where she would go on to spend two seasons. Her company was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002. In 2003, after the EXPRESS HERMES (ex-BARI EXPRESS of Ventouris Ferries) and the EXPRESS NAÏAS (one of the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI’s former Agapitos Lines fleetmates, then known as the NAÏAS II, and also the doomed EXPRESS SAMINA’s sister ship) were sold for scrap, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Ios-Santorini line. She was once again successful, but it turned out to be her last year operating for the weakening Hellas Flying Dolphins .
The EXPRESS ARTEMIS returning to Piraeus following a trip on the Cyclades, shortly after the sinking of her fleetmate, the EXPRESS SAMINA, and shortly before she changed her name again to PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI. Picture taken by Ted Blank and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI in Piraeus during the summer of 2001, which was the first summer operating under her former Agapitos Lines name. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI leaving the port of Santorini during the summer of 2001. Picture taken by Brian Fisher.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen on the Saronic Gulf in 2002. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI in 2004 during the final refit that she would undergo with Hellas Ferries, as she is rumoured to have been sold yet another time. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström.
As Hellas Flying Dolphins’ economic troubles were becoming more important, the company decided to shift towards a modernisation of the fleet. More older ships were sold for scrap or withdrawn from service. The company instead decided to build one new high speed craft, the HIGHSPEED 5 (known as the HIGHSPEED 7 since 2016) and the two cruise ferries NISSOS MYKONOS and NISSOS CHIOS between 2005 and 2007 respectively. The company then made the shocking decision to sell two of its most successful older ships, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI and the EXPRESS PENELOPE, to their former owners, which were initially believed to have ended their services on the Aegean Sea, but they were instead looking to return to their past glory. The sales were both completed in 2004, with the two then-32-year-old ferries switching owners once again. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was sold to a reborn Ventouris Sea Lines (which had been inactive since 1996), while the EXPRESS PENELOPE was sold back to Agoudimos Lines, and she reacquired her original name, becoming the PENELOPE A once again. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI however returned to her original owners under a different name: this time, she became the AGIOS GEORGIOS (the Greek translation for Saint George), which was the name that the company’s first ship bore. This was made in order to symbolise the company’s brand new start and quest for a success similar to the one it experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS was fully refitted, and entered service on the Rafina-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Santorini line for the 2004 season, while also occasionally serving the islands of Donousa, Amorgos and Ios during the summer. Under a huge matter of coincidence, this season marked the first time that all three ships of the Apollon Trio operated together (despite all now operating under different owners), as the EXPRESS APOLLON (still operated by Hellas Ferries) was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line to compete with the PENELOPE A. Therefore, all three ferries reunited for one last time in Rafina, before the AGIOS GEORGIOS and the EXPRESS APOLLON departed their Rafina services following season.
The three ships of the Apollon Trio together in Rafina during the summer of 2004. The AGIOS GEORGIOS is the one on the far-right. Next to the PENELOPE A is the EXPRESS APHRODITE of Hellas Ferries, also a former Sealink fleetmate (known previously as the ST COLUMBA). Picture taken by Tasos Papanastasiou.
The three Apollon Trio members together in Rafina in 2004 (from left to right): the EXPRESS APOLLON, the PENELOPE A and the AGIOS GEORGIOS. Picture taken by Tasos Papanastasiou.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS leaving the port of Syros, in her first summer following her return to Ventouris Sea Lines. Picture taken by Dieter Pots.
After a fair season on the Rafina-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Ios-Santorini line, the ship was transferred to the line on which she would go on to operate for the next ten consecutive seasons (the most ever in her career in Greece). Indeed, in 2005, Ventouris Sea Lines decided to deploy her on the Western Cyclades, on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, a highly demanding line with many difficult ports available for docking. Fortunately, the Western Cyclades were not new to the ship, as she had previously operated with Ventouris Sea Lines exactly ten years ago, in 1995, on the same line. She successfully competed against her former company, Hellas Flying Dolphins, which at the time became the company that is now known as Hellenic Seaways, and against new entrants Aegean Speed Lines. The latter, owned then by Sea Containers, operated the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER I (now the HIGHSPEED JET of Sea Jets), which was coincidentally registered in the AGIOS GEORGIOS’ former port of call, Folkestone, and previously had a stint on the Boulogne-Folkestone line from 1994 to 1998. In 2006, after the EXPRESS APHRODITE (which had been operating on the same line during the 2005 season) left the fleet of Hellenic Seaways, the AGIOS GEORGIOS became the only conventional ferry operating on the Western Cyclades. Her full-year service made her popular amongst Western Cyclades residents, despite her advanced age. She successfully competed against the HIGHSPEED 1of Hellenic Seaways and Aegean Speed Lines’ new monohull ferry, the SPEEDRUNNER II, for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2009, she underwent a major refit in Perama, during which her interior areas were furthermore modernised. That year, her company saw the arrival of a new conventional ferry: the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS of Zante Ferries, a successfully-converted Japanese ferry that threatened the dominance of the AGIOS GEORGIOS. Nevertheless, Ventouris Sea Lines resisted the competition, and, in 2010 a joint venture was established between the two companies, which became known as Cyclades Ferries.
At the same time, her sister ships would experience different paths, as the PENELOPE A continued to be the most dominant ferry in Rafina, along with the SUPERFERRY II of Blue Star Ferries and the newly-introduced THEOLOGOS P of Fast Ferries. The EXPRESS APOLLON, however, began to show signs of fatigue. Indeed, in 2005 (while being the only ship of the Apollon Trio to operate for Hellenic Seaways), she suffered a major engine failure in Samos. She was removed from her company’s plans in 2006, and in 2007 she was sold to Greek company European Seaways for service on the Adriatic Sea. She was renamed APOLLON, and operated on the Zakynthos-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line during the summer and on the Bari-Durrës line during the winter. She was finally scrapped in 2010, at the age of 37, becoming the first ship of the trio to end her career.
In 2012, the AGIOS GEORGIOS celebrated her fortieth anniversary of service. Even if the Greek economic crisis had began to hit the Greek coastal service, there seemed to be no obstacle to the ferry’s services, and many believed that she would be able to operate for another ten years. However, by 2014, all these beliefs had began to fade away. The ship, despite being well refitted in both 2013 and 2014, unfairly became the victim of criticism by Western Cyclades residents, who were calling for a younger ship to replace her. Their negative comments unfortunately led the ship to leave the area, which has since been served by Zante Ferries throughout the entire year, and also by Aegean Speed Lines and Sea Jets during the summer.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS maneuvering in the port of Folegandros. Picture taken by Georgios Gavalas and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS seen in the port of the beautiful island of Sifnos during the summer of 2008. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Another picture of the AGIOS GEORGIOS seen in the port of the beautiful island of Sifnos during the summer of 2008. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The only picture I have of the ship under the name AGIOS GEORGIOS (the only one that was saved prior to my 2014 computer crash). She is seen in Piraeus during the summer of 2013, awaiting her morning departure to the Western Cyclades.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS in Piraeus in 2014, in her final season operating on the Western Cyclades and under that name, which she had on her stern and her bow for 11 years, the most out of her 6 different names in Greece. Picture taken by Georgios Koutsoukis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS left her Western Cyclades service in the end of 2014, and her departure also marked the end of the Cyclades Ferries joint venture. The ship surprisingly obtained a license in order to operate on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line for the summer of 2015. It was a line on which the ship had never operated before, and she seemed to be an ideal replacement for her sister ship, the PENELOPE A, which had been arrested by her crew in 2013, and had left Rafina in 2014 following Agoudimos Lines’ financial collapse. Just a few days after the license was obtained, and despite the ship’s crew reportedly threatening a strike due to alleged unpaid wages, the AGIOS GEORGIOS began preparation in order to operate on her new line. She was renamed, for the seventh and final time (in Greece), this time taking the name of PANAGIA TINOU, which had been the name of two her former fleetmates during VSL’s 1980s and 1990s dominance. The ship therefore seemed to be prepared to return to regular service on the Cyclades once again.
The PANAGIA TINOU in January 2015, just a few days after changing her name. Picture published on www.ellinikiaktoploia.net.
In early 2015, the PANAGIA TINOU was chartered for two months by the company LANE Sea Lines in order to replace its ship, the VITSENTZOS KORNAROS, which had temporarily left the Piraeus-Gytheion-Kythira-Antikythira-Kissamos lifeline in order to cover the service left by the PREVELIS of ANEK Lines on the Piraeus-Milos-Santorini-Anafi-Heraklion-Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes line, as the latter was due to undergo her annual refit. The PANAGIA TINOU therefore operated on the Peloponnese-Kythira-Antikythira lifeline for the first time in her career. However, after just a month, the ship’s crew officially launched a strike, and the ship was laid-up in Piraeus. The plans to bring her to Rafina were canceled. She was completely abandoned by Evangelos Ventouris, who seemed to provide a version of his former self dating from 1995, when he experienced the first Ventouris Sea Lines collapse. The second one, however, had become permanent. After not being paid for more than 10 months, the desperate crew added a banner on the ship’s stern, which said, in Greek: 'We are hungry. We have not received our salaries in more than 10 months'. Finally, in June 2015, the ship was seized by the Piraeus Port Authority. Also, to add even more sadness, the ship’s most famous captain, Nikolaos Sardis, tragically passed away in September 2015. He had been the ship’s master from 2004 to 2013, and had been a loyal Ventouris Sea Lines crew member.
The ship spent the entire 2015 season abandoned in Piraeus, and as the months would pass by, the chances of her returning to service became more and more slim. After years of being among the most popular and acclaimed ships in Piraeus, now the port’s residents were calling for her to leave permanently, thus completely forgetting the ship’s contributions to the Greek coastal service.