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.
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 there from 2015 until two weeks ago, due to the economic difficulties of her final owner, Ventouris Sea Lines.
With the departure of the PANAGIA TINOU, the Greek coastal service lost one of its greatest-ever members, as the ship's longevity, reliability and comfortable services 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 glory days during the 1990s, 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 Tribute 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 career in Greece, 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 undergoing multiple changes in ownership. 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 conventional ferry 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 period during her spell in Greece, having kept it 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 never be forgotten.
The ship that went on to become the PANAGIA TINOU was ordered in 1970 as one of three sister ships planned to operate on the Channel under the British conglomerate Sealink, which was the brandname of the train/ferry operator British Railways (known as British Rail since 1965). The British state-owned company, already known for connecting the United Kingdom with Ireland, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, also served as a consortium operating all ferry services ran by the Channel train and transportation companies from countries linked to the United Kingdom. Such companies included the French company 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 French company Angleterre-Lorraine-Alsace Société Anonyme de Navigation, the Belgian company 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 comapny 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 primarily found on the popular Calais-Dover line as well as on the Dieppe-Newhaven 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 plans to deploy the ferries in Folkestone, 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 future PANAGIA TINOU) and HORSA (the future PENELOPE A), which were the names of two warrior 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 seen during her launching ceremony at the Arsenal de la Marine Nationale Française Shipyard Brest, in 1972. Picture taken by Roy Thornton and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The HENGIST seen docked in Folkestone in 1972, during her debut season under Sealink. Picture taken by Matt Murtland and published on www.hhvferry.com.
An aerial view of the HENGIST while she is sailing on the Channel, during the first years of her career. Picture taken by Roy Thornton and published on www.hhvferry.com.
One of the ship's most famous features: the HENGIST mural, located in the atrium area leading from Deck 5 to Deck 6. It was designed by the 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. Along with the HENGIST, she operated on the Boulogne-Folkestone line for the first 20 years of her career. She was renamed STENA HORSA in 1991, while in 1992 she was sold to Greek company Agoudimos Lines, being renamed PENELOPE A. She entered service on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, where she immediately made a huge impact and became one of the most historic ferries to have served the line. She joined Minoan Flying Dolphins in 1999, and was placed under the Hellas Ferries division as the EXPRESS PENELOPE, while remaining on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. Minoan Flying Dolphins was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002. In 2004, the ship was once again bought by Agoudimos Lines, and was once again renamed PENELOPE A. She remained in service until 2013, when the company ceased operations due to financial issues. She was arrested in Rafina, before moving to the Elefsina Bay in 2014, having been permanently laid-up there ever since. Picture taken by Matt Murtland and 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 logo of British Rail, instead it featured a logo of a joint venture between British Rail and the French company SNCF. In 1985 she was registered in Dieppe and operated under the Sealink Dieppe Ferries brandname. She was chartered in 1987 to Irish company B&I Line (the predecessor of Irish Ferries), and operated on the Fishguard-Rosslare line on the Irish Sea. After the season ended, the ship was the first ship of the trio to depart the Channel for Greece, something that she as she was acquired by Ventouris Sea Lines (who later also became the owners of the HENGIST). She was renamed APOLLON EXPRESS and began service in 1988 on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line on the Cyclades, where she was widely acclaimed and became a legend of the Aegean Sea. She would occasionally also dock in ports of Syros, Folegandros, Sikinos, Thirassia, Anafi, Donousa and Amorgos. In 1993 she was renamed APOLLON EXPRESS 1 and continued to serve the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line until the first collapse of Ventouris Sea Lines in 1995. After being laid-up in Piraeus, she was sold in 1996 to Agapitos Express Ferries, was renamed EXPRESS APOLLON and was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Patmos-Leipsoi line, before returning to the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 1997. In 1999, all ships of Agapitos Express Ferries were transferred to Minoan Flying Dolphins (which became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2022), and the ship joined the Hellas Ferries division, while continuing to operate in the same service as the one that she had been under her previous owners. In 2003 she moved to the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, while in 2004 she headed to the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. Her company was rebranded as Hellenic Seaways in 2005, and the EXPRESS APOLLON returned to the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line during that year. After being laid-up in Piraeus and in Keratsini in 2006, she was sold to Greek company European Seaways in 2007. She was renamed APOLLON and was deployed on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line on the Adriatic Sea. In 2009 she operated on the Bari-Durrës line. Following the sumer of 2010, she was sold for scrap to Turkey. 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.
The HENGIST seen leaving the port of Dover during the late 1970s, presumably while operating on the Calais-Dover line when one of her fleetmates underwent her annual winter refit. Picture published on www.hhvferry.com.
The HENGIST seeen 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 services in order to replace her fleetmates that would undergo their annual refits. These included the Ostend-Dover 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 Höegh-Ugland Autoliners near Calais. Fortunately, both ships suffered little damage, and the HENGIST was quickly repaired and put back to service.
The HENGIST seen right after having collided with the CANABAL off the port of Calais in 1980. Picture taken by Nigel 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 ships that had been operated by British Rail started to operate for a new company that began trading as Sealink British Ferries, and they therefore changed their liveries, thus 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 placed under the full control of SNCF, which operated the ships serving on the Dieppe-Newhaven line under the new Sealink Dieppe Ferries brandname. She returned to the Dieppe-Newhaven line in 1985, and had a brief spell on the Irish Sea under the Irish company B&I Line in 1987, before sold to the Greek company Ventouris Sea Lines later in that same year.
The HENGIST underwent a major refit in 1985, during which her aft bridge was removed and her indoor areas were renovated. She continued to operate successfully throughout the summers of 1985 and of 1986. 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 seen on the Channel in 1985, with her company’s new name now being written on both sides of her hull. This year marked her return to service 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 career lowlights of the HENGIST, 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 Roy Thornton and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The HENGIST seen 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 the sea. Picture taken by Nigel 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, the successor of Townsend Thoresen, which introduced two newly-built ferries on the Calais-Dover line in 1987, namely the PRIDE OF CALAIS and the PRIDE OF DOVER, which heavily favoured freight service, and were therefore preferred to the more classic ferries of Sealink British Ferries. The company therefore lost an important amount of profit over these years, despite being the sole operators on some services, including on the Boulogne-Folkestone line. For the 1990 season, the HENGIST and the HORSA were joined by the younger ferry ST ANSELM (previously operating on the Calais-Dover line since 1980), which later went on to become the BARI of Greek company Ventouris Ferries when she was bought by them in 2010. However, three ships on the line proved to be excessive, and the ST ANSELM was withdrawn from the service. In late 1990, following a hostile takeover attempt, Sea Containers decided to sell Sealink British Ferries to the Swedish giants Stena Line, thus creating a new company called Sealink Stena Line (later renamed Stena Sealink Line in 1992). This resulted in all ferries receiving the 'STENA' prefix in their respective names, hence the HENGIST and the HORSA were respectively renamed STENA HENGIST and STENA HORSA, respectively. 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 the plans of Stena Line, 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 sister ships, which were now deemed to surplus requirements. The HENGIST spent her final days under Sealink Stena Line on the Irish Sea and on the North Channel during the winter of 1991-1992, operating on the Holyhead-Dún Laoghaire line and on the Stranraer-Larne line, respectively, in order to replace her fleetmates that were undergoing their winter refits. Finally, in 1992, her sale to the Greek company GA Ferries was officially announced, thereby marking the end of her career on the Channel 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 Greece. 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 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 in 1990: the DIMITRA (a former fleetmate of the STENA HENGIST when they both operated under Sealink, for whom she operated as the AILSA PRINCESS from 1971 to 1985 and then as the EARL HAROLD from 1985 to 1989, mainly on the Stranraer-Larne line on the North Channel 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 of conversion in Perama). The STENA HENGIST therefore became the sixth member of the fleet of GA Ferries. She arrived in Greece in April 1992, and began a conversion 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, the owner of the company Agoudimos Lines. The ship received also underwent a conversion that similar to that of her sister ship (although 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 (previously the DORIC FERRY of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company and then of Townsend Thoresen) on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, where she was met with universal acclaim, and 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 amenities impressed Dodecanese residents, while passengers heading to Paros and Naxos 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 an overall successful 1992 season for GA Ferries, she was surprisingly sold the following year to another Greek company, which has already been mentioned several times in this post: Ventouris Sea Lines.
One of the most unique pictures in the history of the Greek coastal service. This the ROMILDA that has 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 British Ferries 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 seen shortly before entering service with GA Ferries, during the final stages of her conversion in Perama. Her stern was fully upgraded, with the addition of several outdoor sun decks. Picture taken by Rod Seville and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
A brochure advertising the itinerary schedule of the ROMILDA for the 1992 summer season. The islands of Paros, Patmos, Kalymnos, Kos, Rhodes, Naxos, Nisyros, Tilos and Symi are mentioned, although 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 her 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 seen sailing on the Aegean Sea during the summer of 1992, which marked her first season in Greece and under GA Ferries. Picture taken by Niles Wegener and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The ROMILDA departed the fleet of GA Ferries in 1993. She was subsequently replaced by another former Channel ferry, namely 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 in Perama 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 the bankruptcy of GA Ferries in 2009.
Now it is time to introduce the new owners of the ROMILDA. Indeed, Ventouris Sea Lines was among the most famous companies in the Greek coastal service during the early 1990s. Its roots go back to 1975, when a ferry company was founded by the Kimolos-native Konstantinos Ventouris, a well-known self-made shipowner who established himself by operating cargo vessels before deciding to enter the Greek coastal service. Along with his four sons, he bought the small passenger ship AGIOS GEORGIOS, which began service in 1976 on the Western Cyclades. The ship immediately made a great impact and gave the company significant exposure across the Aegean Sea. In 1978, the family bought the ferry KONINGIN WILHELMINA of Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland, which was initially renamed CAPETAN KONSTANTINOS, and was introduced on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line in 1980. She was then renamed PANAGIA TINOU in 1981, and went on to have a legendary spell on the aforementioned line. The success of the vessel led the Ventouris family in making significant new acquisitions in the early 1980s. Indeed, in 1980, the company, which had began trading as Ventouris Ferries, bought the ex-FREE ENTERPRISE I of Townsend Thoresen, converted her in Perama and introduced her in 1980 on the Western Cyclades as the KIMOLOS. The latter also went on to become largely successful, and therefore the company bought the former Regie voor Maritiem Transport ferry ROI BAUDOUIN in 1983, Initially renamed GEORGIOS B, she was converted in Perama and entered service on the Cyclades as 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). In 1984, they also began operating on the Adriatic Sea, having bought two former Sealink ferries: the PATRA EXPRESS (the ex-ST GEORGE of British Railways) and the BARI EXPRESS (the ex-PRINCESSE ASTRID of Regie voor Maritiem Transport, and the sister ship of the GEORGIOS EXPRESS). However, in 1986 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: the new company Ventouris Sea Lines was founded by Evangelos Ventouris (along with his younger brother Antonis), while Ventouris Ferries continued under Georgios Ventouris (along with his younger brother Apostolos). The result of this was the transfer of the GEORGIOS EXPRESS and of the KIMOLOS to Ventouris Sea Lines, while Ventouris Ferries would continue to operate solely on the Adriatic Sea with the PATRA EXPRESS and the BARI EXPRESS (although the company later resumed service on the Cyclades) as well as the newly-acquired ATHENS EXPRESS (later renamed ATHENS in 2003, scrapped in 2010). Just a year later, the Ventouris family experienced a further split, as Apostolos Ventouris went on to found the company AK Ventouris (later known as C-Link Ferries from 2002 to 2007), and took over the ownership of the PANAGIA TINOU. That same year, Ventouris Sea Lines bought the ex-SENLAC, which became the APOLLON EXPRESS and successfully entered service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 1988. Moreover, in 1987 they bought the Ro-Ro carrier ATLAS I (formerly known as the CERDIC FERRY of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company and later of Townsend Thoresen) of Greek company Libra Maritime, which was successfully converted into a conventional ferry and entered service as the SIFNOS EXPRESS, operating on the Cyclades, Crete and the Dodecanese. In 1990, Ventouris Sea Lines further cemented their presence on the Cyclades by buying the PANAGIA TINOU from AK Ventouris, and kept her on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line, where she remained very successful.
Evangelos Ventouris saw his company become one of the leading forces of the Greek coastal service in 1992, thanks to the KIMOLOS (which was renamed ERGINA in 1993), the SIFNOS EXPRESS, 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 ferry MOBY LOVE of Moby Lines (which was previously known as the PRINCE PHILIPPE under Regie voor Maritiem Transport, hence a former fleetmate of the APOLLON EXPRESS 2 through Sealink) and renamed her PANAGIA TINOU 2, 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).
The APOLLON EXPRESS 2 preparing to maneuver in Piraeus after returning from the Cyclades Islands in 1993, during her first summer under Ventouris Sea Lines. Picture taken by Bernd Crause and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The APOLLON EXPRESS 2 leaving the port of Piraeus in order to head to the Cyclades in 1994. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The great APOLLON EXPRESS 2 seen maneuvering in the port of Piraeus in 1994, during her second year under Ventouris Sea Lines and third overall season in Greece. Picture taken by Bernd Crause and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Everything seemed to go well until the 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. The only exceptions were the ERGINA and the SIFNOS EXPRESS. The former had been sold earlier that year to the company Ventouris Lines (founded by Antonis Ventouris who had split from the partnership with Evangelos and had began operating his own company on the Saronic Gulf, coincidentally also going defunct in late 1995), while the latter was sold to AK Ventouris in 1994 and began operating on the Adriatic Sea as the IGOUMENITSA EXPRESS. The remaining ships 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.
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. Next to her (on the port side) is her former Sealink fleetmate, the PANAGIA TINOU 2. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
Following a large auction that was held for all the laid-up ferries of Ventouris Sea Lines, 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 Georgios Ferries, also operating until 2001, before being laid-up in Elefsina for the next eight years, 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, both operated by members of the Agapitos family.
These two companies used to be united under the company known as Agapitos Brothers, from 1965 until 1992. After initially operating landing craft on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line in the late 1960s, they became very successful on the Aegean Sea, first by deploying the small ferry KYKLADES (later the EXPRESS EVOÏKOS of Agapitos Express Ferries, then the METHODIA of Ventouris Lines, before later becoming the EXPRESS DANAE of Agapitos Express Ferries and Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins on the Saronic Gulf) in 1972, followed by the AGAPITOS I (the ex-ST PATRICK of Sealink) in 1973 and the legendary AIGAION (the ex-ARTEVELDE of Regie voor Maritiem Transport) in 1976. The company continued to thrive during the 1980s, operating the small ferry NEREUS from 1981 to 1989 (previously the POLHEM of Swedish company Gotlandstrafiken) on the Cyclades and on the Dodecanese, as well as the CORFU SEA (later the EXPRESS KARYSTOS of DD Ferries from 1996 to 2004) and the CORFU DIAMOND on the Adriatic Sea. The NEREUS sadly ran aground in Crete in 1989, and was scrapped on the spot after being declared a constructive total loss. In 1988 and in 1989, respectively, the company acquired two French-built sister ships that were operating under the company Stability Lines: the NAÏAS II which was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line, and the GOLDEN VERGINA which was inserted on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ikaria-Samos line in 1990, after initially serving the Piraeus-Milos-Santorini-Agios Nikolaos-Sitieia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes lifeline from 1989 to 1990. The company further strengthened its operations in 1990, buying the ex-EARL GRANVILLE of Sealink and deploying her on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini-Anafi line as the EXPRESS OLYMPIA. In 1992, the four Agapitos brothers, Ioannis, Antonis, Kostas and Vassilis, decided to operate two new companies. Vassilis and Antonis kept most of the fleet of the original company and renamed it Agapitos Lines, while Ioannis and Kostas created the company Agapitos Express Ferries, to which the AIGAION and the EXPRESS OLYMPIA were transferred, alongside the KYKLADES in 1993. That same company then managed to acquire the APOLLON EXPRESS 1 in 1996 and the PANAGIA TINOU 2 in 1997, renaming them EXPRESS APOLLON and EXPRESS ATHINA, respectively, and bringing them back to service on the Cyclades. Despite the split, Agapitos Lines continued its rapid expansion, buying the DIMITRA from GA Ferries in 1995, and introducing her on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line as the NAÏAS EXPRESS. The following year, the company acquired two more ships: the ferry KRITI of ANEK Lines, which was renamed SUPER NAÏAS, and the APOLLON EXPRESS 2. The company renamed her PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI, which is the name of Our Lady of Paros, or 'Our Lady of One Hundred Gates', considered to be the patron protector of the island of Paros. It is 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 was now operating as the NAÏAS EXPRESS. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI went on to take the latter ferry's service on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, while the NAÏAS EXPRESS was transferred to the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Irakleia-Schoinousa-Koufonisi-Donousa-Amorgos-Astypalaia line. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI therefore returned to the same service that she had been performing under Ventouris Sea Lines from 1993 to 1994. She operated in tandem with the SUPER NAÏAS, which was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Amorgos-Ios-Santorini-Astypalaia line and became the flagship of the company. The service of the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLUANI was extremely successful, despite a few engine troubles, and Agapitos Lines continued to be one of the most dominant companies on the Cyclades. The tandem with the far larger SUPER NAÏAS proved to be effective, despite the latter's rough initial start on the demanding line that she was serving. Overall, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was particularly appreciated by the residents of Paros, and she managed to compete very well against her sister ship and former fleetmate, the EXPRESS APOLLON (which was operating under Agapitos Express Ferries), as well as against ships operated by other rival companies, including her former owners GA Ferries and Arkadia Lines.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen in 1996, while undergoing her change in livery after having been transferred from Ventouris Sea Lines to Agapitos Lines. This was just a few days before she returned to the Cyclades after having been laid-up since late 1995. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published on www.adriaticandaegeanferries.com.
An aerial view of the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI while she sails on the Cyclades in 1996, during her first summer under Agapitos Lines. Picture taken by Giannis Kouroupis and published on www.naviearmatori.net.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen entering the port of Piraeus during the summer of 1997, during her second year under Agapitos Lines. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI approaching the port of Paros during the summer of 1997. While remaining successful throughout her spell under Agapitos Lines and being appreciated by all passengers traveling to the Cyclades, she became particularly revered by the residents of Paros, being one of their all-time favourite ferries. 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.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen departing the port of Piraeus during the summer of 1998. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published on www.hhvferry.com.
With the glorious 1990s coming to an end and with the Greek coastal service transitioning to the 21st century, everything seemed to go very well for the ferry. Indeed, Agapitos Lines was being very successful, largely thanks to the services of the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI, as well as the good services provided by the NAÏAS EXPRESS or the SUPER NAÏAS, with the latter in particular beginning to win over more and more passengers as her operations kept becoming better, despite her initial rough start. The company had largely benefited from the collapse of Ventouris Sea Lines and the sinking of one of the best ships of the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, namely the POSEIDON EXPRESS of Arkadia Lines, in 1996. For the 1999 season, Agapitos Lines sought to capitalise on that success by ordering their first-ever high speed craft, namely the high speed catamaran SEA SPEED 1, which was built in the United Kingdom. She was supposed to be deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line, but her entry to service was blocked by technical problems and Greek authorities failing to give her relevant safety certificates. Nevertheless, the company kept thriving thanks to its conventional ferries. However, in the end of the year 1999, Agapitos Lines abruptly ceased operations, as they became one of the many companies that were acquired by the Greek giants Minoan Flying Dolphins, better known today as the predecessor of Hellenic Seaways. It was created in late 1998, when Minoan Lines agreed to create a new company that would absolve the operations of the popular company Ceres Flying Dolphins, which had been operating a fleet of 30 hydrofoils and two high speed catamarans. The company began trading as Minoan Flying Dolphins, which was a portmanteau of Minoan Lines and Ceres Flying Dolphins, and also took over the high speed ferry HIGHSPEED 1 of Minoan Lines (built in 1996, she had been operating on the Cyclades under Minoan Lines beginning in 1997), followed by her fleetmate, the FEDRA. But the new company's growth did not stop there. Indeed, its 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 newly-built high speed ferries (the HIGHSPEED 2, the HIGHSPEED 3 and the HIGHSPEED 4) in 2000, Sfinias managed to buy all the ferries and 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, 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. This resulted in the formation of a fleet of unprecedented size, with a total of 77 ships. This included 27 conventional ferries, 4 Ro-Ro carriers, 8 landing craft, 30 hydrofoils, 4 high speed ferries and 4 high speed catamarans. With these acquisitions, Minoan Flying Dolphins became the new leading force of the Greek coastal service, with only GA Ferries (the former owners of the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI, who actually 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 in 2000) 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 core Minoan Flying Dolphins division, while ferries operating on the Cyclades, on the Northeast Aegean Sea and on the Dodecanese ,as well as the Ro-Ro carriers sailing 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 Saronikos Ferries and Sporades Ferries divisions, respectively. As she was a ferry coming from the Cyclades, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI and all her Agapitos Lines fleetmates joined the Hellas Ferries division. Agapitos Lines abandoned the Greek coastal service altogether, having sold all their ferries on the Aegean Sea to Minoan Flying Dolphins, while also selling their three landing craft that were operating on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line.
Ahead of the 2000 season, Minoan Flying Dolphins implemented a naming policy that was applied to almost all its ferries, which carried on the one introduced by Agapitos Express Ferries, which was the use of the prefix 'EXPRESS' and adding the name of a figure from the Greek mythology, a name similar to the one a ship held under her previous ownership or the name of a Greek location. As such, the NAÏAS II became the EXPRESS NAÏAS, the NAÏAS EXPRESS was renamed EXPRESS ADONIS, the GOLDEN VERGINA became the EXPRESS SAMINA, while the SUPER NAÏAS changed her name to become the EXPRESS ARIS. The SEA SPEED 1, which had never sailed for Agapitos Lines, became the FLYINGCAT 4 and joined the 'Flyingcat' brandname together with the FLYINGCAT 1 (which had started her career with that name under Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1991), the FLYINGCAT 2 (previously the FLYING DOLPHIN 2000 of Ceres Flying Dolphins, delivered to them in 1998) and the FLYINGCAT 3 (previously the ATHINA 2004/SUPERCAT ATHINA of Goutos Lines, delivered to them in 1998). As for the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI, she 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 ship when she was named 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 place of worship) to change their names within Greece, with this act being frequently assimilated with 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 (the ex-VORTIGERN of Sealink and the ex-MILOS EXPRESS of Lindos Lines), the EXPRESS APHRODITE (previously the ST COLUMBA of Sealink, and owned by Agapitos Express Ferries from 1997 to 1999), the EXPRESS HERMES (previously operating under Agapitos Express Ferries, and formerly the PRINCESSE ASTRID of Sealink under Regie voor Maritiem Transport, and also the BARI EXPRESS of Ventouris Ferries), the EXPRESS OLYMPIA (previously the EARL GRANVILLE of Sealink, and then owned by Agapitos Lines and later by Agapitos Express Ferries from 1992 to 1999), and the EXPRESS SANTORINI (the ex-CHARTRES of Sealink under SNCF, also owned previously by Agapitos Express Ferries from 1993 to 1999). She also reunited with her former fleetmate under Ventouris Sea Lines, the PANAGIA TINOU 2, which had become the EXPRESS ATHINA of Agapitos Express Ferries. Most of the ferries that sailed under the Hellas Ferries division continued to operate on the lines that they were previously serving under their previous owners, with only a few exceptions. This included the EXPRESS ARIS, which was sent to operate on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line on the Adriatic Sea.
The EXPRESS ARTEMIS spent her first season with her new owners on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini-Anafi line on the Cyclades, which was a service that was similar to the one that she had performed under Agapitos Lines. She was joined in this service by the EXPRESS POSEIDON (previously her competitor, as she was the POSEIDON EXPRESS 2 of Arkadia Lines). Therefore, both ships provided an additional itinerary to the core Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, which was served by the EXPRESS APOLLON and the EXPRESS SANTORINI. They all operated successfully, and, along with the four recently-built 'Highspeeds', contributed to a reliable service on the Cyclades. There was very little competition during that year, as Minoan Flying Dolphins had absorbed almost all main companies serving the Cyclades, although Blue Star Ferries (the successor of Strintzis Lines) became a main threat after deploying the newly-built BLUE STAR ITHAKI, which was at the time the most modern day ferry of the Aegean Sea, on the Rafina-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line.
The EXPRESS ARTEMIS seen docked in Piraeus, during her debut season under Minoan Flying Dolphins and the Hellas Ferries division during the summer of 2000. She was now sailing under her fourth different owner in Greece, as well as her fourth different name since arriving on the Aegean Sea in 1992. Picture taken by Peter Fitzpatrick and published on www.wikipedia.org.
Despite operating as a monopoly and having the largest fleet on the Aegean Sea, the year 2000 ended on a disastrous note for Minoan Flying Dolphins. Indeed, the EXPRESS SAMINA (the ex-GOLDEN VERGINA of Agapitos Lines), tragically sank in Paros on 26 September 2000, resulting in the loss of 81 people. The entire population of Greece was shocked by the events, and the sinking became one of the biggest maritime tragedies in the history of the Greek coastal service. Just two days later, the EXPRESS ARTEMIS herself nearly found trouble, as she suffered a blackout in Naxos, while carrying more than 1,000 passengers. As a result of this, 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 many of her fleetmates were forced to end their services on a permanent basis, such as the EXPRESS NAÏAS. Minoan Flying Dolphins was seriously hit by all these events, becoming the centre of much criticism due to having undergone poor refits on their older ferries. Moreover, several of them did not meet the main safety standards that are required in order to sail. With the mounting negativity and public outcry, the final straw for Minoan Flying Dolphins 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 was ready to redeem itself for the 2001 season. In that same year, 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-Paros-Naxos-Irakleia-Schoinousa-Koufonisi-Donousa-Amorgos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini-Anafi line, hence replacing the EXPRESS ADONIS which was sent to the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. Her previous service was mainly covered by the EXPRESS ARIS, which had an uneventful spell on the Adriatic Sea.
In 2002 her company was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins, in an attempt to make the public forget about the name Minoan Flying Dolphins, which had been significantly damaged as a result of the EXPRESS SAMINA disaster. That same year, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI moved to the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini line. Despite providing good service overall, her company was underperforming. With a tarnished reputation and an aging fleet, Hellas Flying Dolphins began to lose its momentum as well as a large amount of passengers. They were unable to match the competition and the standards of Blue Star Ferries, which was experiencing a rapid growth and had deployed two newly-built ferries that went on to become a massive success on the Cyclades in 2002, namely the sister ships BLUE STAR NAXOS and BLUE STAR PAROS. They also failed to break the dominance of NEL Lines on the Northeast Aegean Sea, as the latter company continued to provide services of high quality, as well as deploying three newly-built high speed ferries that were superior to the ships of Hellas Ferries. Altogether, Hellas Flying Dolphins only saw success from its core division, which included the 'Highspeeds' and the 'Flyingcats'. On the contrary, the conventional ferries were not maintained nor upgraded, and soon this began to to reflect itself upon the services that the ships started to provide from late 2001 onwards. Most of the successful ferries of the 1990s were now marred by technical issues, and their indoor amenities began to look outdated next to those of the newly-built ferries. Aiming to focus more on the good services of the high speed craft, Hellas Flying Dolphins began to withdraw much of its older tonnage. The EXPRESS HERMES and the EXPRESS ARIS were laid-up in 2002, and were sold for scrap in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The EXPRESS NAÏAS, the sister ship of the doomed EXPRESS SAMINA, was also sold for scrap in 2003. Many older hydrofoils that had entered service under Ceres Flying Dolphins were also sold for demolition. Furthermore, three ferries operating under the Sporades Ferries division were sold to smaller Greek ferry operators in 2002, while the EXPRESS MILOS left the company and the Western Cyclades in 2003, after having been sold to Saos Ferries. That same company also acquired the Ro-Ro carrier STAR TRAILER in 2003, renaming her PANAGIA KRIMNIOTISSA. Amidst the decline of the company's fleet, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Irakleia-Schoinousa-Koufonisi-Donousa-Amorgos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini-Anafi line in 2003. She therefore provided continued service on the only line that continued to be prioritised by Hellas Flying Dolphins, operating alongside the EXPRESS SANTORINI and the EXPRESS POSEIDON, whose service quality was starting to diminish.
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 docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2001, which was the first summer operating under the name that she bore during her spell with Agapitos Lines. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen leaving the port of Santorini during the summer of 2001, which marked her first season under the name which made her famous on the Cyclades under Agapitos Lines. Picture taken by Brian Fisher and published on www.adriaticandaegeanferries.com.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen sailing on the Saronic Gulf, on her way back to Piraeus, in 2002. This was shortly before Minoan Flying Dolphins was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2003. She was now featuring the updated livery of Hellas Flying Dolphins under the Hellas Ferries division. Picture taken by Andreas Wörteler and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen sailing towards Paros during the summer of 2003, in what was yet another busy season for her on the Cyclades. Picture published on www.commons.wikimedia.org.
As the poor ferry services and the economic troubles of Hellas Flying Dolphins were becoming more significant, the company decided to shift towards a modernisation of the fleet. More older ships were sold for scrap or withdrawn from service, such as the Ro-Ro carrier SEA TRAILER in 2003. The company instead decided to order one new high speed ferry, the HIGHSPEED 5 (known as the HIGHSPEED 7 since 2016) and the two cruiseferries NISSOS MYKONOS and NISSOS CHIOS between 2005 and 2007, respectively. Aiming to save costs and to dispose themselves of the older tonnage, Hellas Flying Dolphins made the shocking decision to sell two of its most successful ferries, the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI and the EXPRESS PENELOPE, to their former owners, who were initially believed to have ended their services on the Aegean Sea, but were actually looking to return to their past glorious days during the 1990s. The sales were both completed just before the start of the 2004 season, at relatively low prices, with the two then-32-year-old ferries switching owners once again. The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI was sold to a reformed Ventouris Sea Lines (which had been inactive since 1996), while the EXPRESS PENELOPE was sold back to Agoudimos Lines, hence becoming the PENELOPE A once again. As for Ventouris Sea Lines, it seemed that Evangelos Ventouris had managed to repay his debts and was now in a healthy financial position to make investments in the Greek coastal service once again. He therefore bought the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI, which he had previously owned from 1993 to 1996 as the APOLLON EXPRESS 2. This time, however, the ship became known as the AGIOS GEORGIOS (the Greek translation for Saint George), which was the name of the first-ever ship bought by the Ventouris family, back in 1976. This was made in order to symbolise the company’s brand new start and quest for a success similar to the one that it had experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.
The PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI seen in Drapetsona in 2004, during the final refit that she would undergo with Hellas Ferries, as she would then go on to join Ventouris Sea Lines for the second time in her career. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on www.shipsotting.com.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS was fully refitted in Drapetsona, and entered service on the Rafina-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Ios-Santorini line for the 2004 season. 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 were seen together in Rafina for one lone season, as the AGIOS GEORGIOS and the EXPRESS APOLLON moved back to Piraeus in 2005. The 2004 season was a great success for the AGIOS GEORGIOS, as she managed to perform extremely well against her former owners, Hellas Flying Dolphins, whose ships continued to be provide low-quality services. On the contrary, under the rejuvenated Ventouris Sea Lines, the ship was in a much better condition and her indoor and outdoor areas were much cleaner and warmer compared to how they were during the last two seasons that she spent under Hellas Flying Dolphins. Ultimately, her sale and that of the EXPRESS PENELOPE to direct competitors proved to be a terrible mistake committed by the company, as both ships outperformed their services on the Cyclades, and were then placed at a higher market value than that under which they were sold in 2004. This further damaged the ferry service of Hellas Flying Dolphins on the Cyclades, and they did not repeat this mistake in 2005, when the company was rebranded as Hellenic Seaways. They instead sold the EXPRESS OLYMPIA and the EXPRESS POSEIDON for scrap in 2005, while the EXPRESS ADONIS was sold in 2006 to the Indian company Samudera Ferry Shipping & Cruise Service, for whom she sailed for 4 years until she was scrapped in 2010.
The three ships of the Apollon Trio together in Rafina during the summer of 2004. The AGIOS GEORGIOS is the one on the right corner. Next to the PENELOPE A is the EXPRESS APHRODITE of Hellas Ferries, also a former Sealink fleetmate (previously known as the ST COLUMBA) of the AGIOS GEORGIOS. Picture taken by Tasos Papanastasiou and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The three Apollon Trio members together in Rafina in 2004. These are the EXPRESS APOLLON, the PENELOPE A and the AGIOS GEORGIOS. The latter two were now competing against their former Hellas Ferries fleetmate, the EXPRESS APOLLON. Picture taken by Tasos Papanastasiou and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS leaving the port of Syros, in 2004, during in her first summer under Ventouris Sea Lines since 1996. Picture taken by Dieter Pots and published on www.shipspotting.com.
After a good 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 ports that have insufficient infrastructure which makes berthing particularly hard especially, under poor weather conditions. Fortunately, the Western Cyclades were not new to the ship, as she had previously operated there with Ventouris Sea Lines exactly ten years prior, back in 1995. 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 such as Aegean Speed Lines. The latter, partly-owned at the time by Sea Containers (the former owners of Sealink British Ferries), operated the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER I (now the HIGHSPEED JET of Sea Jets), which was coincidentally registered in the former port of call of the AGIOS GEORGIOS, 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 Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos line during the 2005 season) was not reactivated and subsequently left the fleet of Hellenic Seaways, the AGIOS GEORGIOS became the only conventional ferry operating on the Western Cyclades, along with the ships of GA Ferries (her former owners). Her full-year service made her popular amongst Western Cyclades residents, despite her advanced age. She successfully competed against the ROMILDA of GA Ferries (the ship that had replaced her back in 1993 and which had taken the same name as the first one that the AGIOS GEORGIOS had upon arriving in Greece), the HIGHSPEED 1of Hellenic Seaways and the new high speed monohull ferry of Aegean Speed Lines, the SPEEDRUNNER II, for the 2007 season and the 2008 season. In 2009, she underwent a major refit in Perama, during which her indoor areas were upgraded, with more comfortable lounges and better lighting, in addition to more modern cabins. In that same year, following the departure of GA Ferries from the area following their economic issues, Ventouris Sea Lines saw the arrival of a new conventional ferry, namely the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS of Zante Ferries, which was a successfully-converted Japanese-built ferry that immediately destabilised the dominance of the AGIOS GEORGIOS on the Western Cyclades. Nevertheless, her company resisted the competition, and, in 2010, Ventouris Sea Lines and Zante Ferries established a joint venture which became known as Cyclades Ferries.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS seen docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2005, which marked her second consecutive season with Ventouris Sea Lines following her return to the company, and during her first season on the Western Cyclades since 1995. The company's name was rewritten on both sides of her hull following the completion of the 2004 season. Picture taken by Lucas Latreche and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS seen undergoing her maneuvering procedure in the port of Folegandros in 2006, during her second consecutive season on the Western Cyclades lifeline. Picture taken by Georgios Gavalas and published on www.nautilia.gr.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS seen undergoing her maneuvering procedure in the port of Sifnos during the summer of 2008. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The AGIOS GEORGIOS seen leaving the port of the beautiful island of Sifnos during the summer of 2008. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
At the same time, the sister ships of the AGIOS GEORGIOS 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