Goodbye EUROPEAN EXPRESS
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen in Perama on 3 July 2018. This is where she was permanently laid-up for the last three years of her working life.
I had already stated on my previous post, written just a week ago, that the veteran conventional ferry EUROPEAN EXPRESS of NEL Lines was being prepared to sail to the Aliağa scrapyard in Turkey, after a career that lasted 45 years, though the last five of them were spent under lay-up in the Piraeus vicinity ports. And in fact, on 27 January 2019, the ship sailed for the last time ever, being towed under the name EXPRESS and under the Togolese flag to Turkey. This ended an eventful career for this old ferry, which had gone through various misfortunes mainly caused by economic problems faced by her owners, numerous short-lived charters and limited stints on various lines she operated within these 45 years.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS was a classic Japanese-built ferry which became one of the many that went on to spend the second part of their career from the 'Land of the Rising Sun' to the Greek coastal service. Despite her huge potential thanks to her speed (being the fastest ferry in the world at the time during which she was built), her large garage and her comfortable indoor lounge areas and cabins, the ship did not experience the success that she deserved. And this was mainly due to the fact that she fell under the wrong hands in the wrong moments, as she was initially operating for the disorganised Access Ferries on the declining connection of Piraeus with Cyprus and Israel in the early 2000s, and then had a rather turbulent spell with the once-glorious NEL Lines at the time of their demise in the mid 2010s. Between her spells under Access Ferries and NEL Lines, she was only able to operate under short-lived charters with various companies, especially on the Western Mediterranean Sea, but also on the Caribbean Sea. Although she did experience some success on certain lines, economic problems faced by her various owners could not help her achieve her full potential, and the collapse of NEL Lines eventually led to her own demise.
Despite her problems and numerous misadventures, the ship is still remembered by many Greek coastal service enthusiasts for her impressive appearance, speed (only during her heydays) and for her successful stint on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line from 2010 to 2012. Back then, she had just been introduced by NEL Lines and her deployment on the company's core line was a temporary success, as she was the fastest ship on the line, and she managed to win the passengers' trust, eventually kicking competitors ANEK Lines out of the line. Hence, her departure to the scrapyards was able to make people remember some of the shining moments of her career, and not only the dark ones she experienced, especially during her final years, when she was laid-up in Drapetsona from 2014 to 2016 and in Perama from 2016 to 2019.
Just like my Farewell Post on the JET FERRY 1 of GA Ferries dating from January 2016 and my Farewell Post on the AGIOS GEORGIOS/PANAGIA TINOU of Ventouris Sea Lines dating from March 2017, this post covers the ferry's entire career from start to finish, including the start of her operations in Japan and the charters she had after arriving in Europe for the first time. Personally, I was never able to see and photograph the ship during the period when she was still active. Instead, I saw her for the first and only time on 3 July 2018, while performing a trip from Piraeus to Salamina with the GEORGIOS BROUFAS II of Broufas Vessels. She had been laid-up in Perama for two years, and I knew that she would be gone anytime soon. Despite seeing her at her worst state, I was still impressed by her appearance. Imagine my reaction if I had seen her eight years earlier, when she first began operating for NEL Lines. This post will hence help the readers see what the ship's true career was, and not only base it on the three pictures I took of her while she was laid-up.
The ship that went on to become the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was one of the two cruiseferries ordered in 1973 by the Japanese company Nippon Car Ferry. She was completed in early 1974 at Nippon Kokan Shipyards, which are located in the Japanese city of Shimizu. She entered service as the TAKACHIHO MARU, alongside her sister ship, the MIMITSU MARU, which was completed during the same period, but in the Naikai Zōsen Yards in Onomichi (both ships were built in separate shipyards in order to both be completed in time for the 1974 season). She was initially carrying the Japanese flag while being registered in Tokyo. She was named after the town of Takachiho, located in the Miyazaki Prefecture (later in her career she would go on to call the latter's capital city's port). Both ships were deployed on the Kawasaki-Hyūga line, hence connecting the suburbs of Tokyo (part of the Kanagawa Prefecture) located on the island of Honshu with the Southern island of Kyushu, where Hyūga is located (within the Miyazaki Prefecture). The trip was extremely long due to the distance separating the two ports, and lasted two days at the time the two ships were operating. Their service was nevertheless efficient, as they were able to provide the passenger demand for cabins and indoor amenities. But the most important and impressive feature she had was the fact that she was, at the time during which she began her career, the fastest cruiseferry in Japan and in the world, being capable of reaching a maximum speed of 27 knots! This was perceived as a real innovation back in 1974. As a result, a faster connection of the two ports made her a favourite amongst the Japanese passengers at the time. The only incident experienced by the TAKACHIHO MARU was in 1982, when she collided with on the Uraga Channel with the reefer SANWA FONTAINE, but both ships suffered very little damage.
The TAKACHIHO MARU seen in a postcard during the early years of her career. This is one of the rare pictures of the ship during her stint with her first owners, Nippon Car Ferry. Postcard taken by Ken Murayama and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The TAKACHIHO MARU seen undergoing an annual refit in Hiroshima during her stint under Nippon Car Ferry. Picture published on https://blogs.yahoo.co.jp.
After spending 16 years with Nippon Car Ferry, the TAKACHIHO MARU was taken over by the Japanese company Seacom Ferry in 1990. Her new company kept her on the Kawasaki-Hyūga line. She was now competing against her sister ship and former fleetmate, the MIMITSU MARU. The service continued to be successful despite the strong competition. In 1992, Seacom Ferry was renamed Marine Express as part of a rebranding strategy undertaken by the company, during which all of its ships were painted with a new livery featuring dark red hulls. The company also acquired the MIMITSU MARU, thus reuniting her with her sister ship. At the same time, Marine Express was also ordering two larger and faster ferries to be deployed on the Kawasaki-Hyūga line. These were the PACIFIC EXPRESS (now the BAJA STAR of the Mexican company Baja Ferries, since late 2018) and the PHOENIX EXPRESS (which later became the MEGA EXPRESS FIVE of the French-Italian company Corsica Ferries-Sardinia Ferries, being sold to them in 2006), built in 1992 and 1993 respectively. The latter effectively replaced the TAKACHIHO MARU that year, and the ship was sent to the Osaka-Miyazaki line. There, she reunited with her sister ship, which had also been deployed on the line a year earlier. Marine Express also notably owned another Japanese-built ferry which went on to operate in Greece, namely the ARIADNE of Hellenic Seaways, which was known as the FERRY HIMUKA. She operated for Marine Express from 2004 to 2005, and then under their subsequent name, Miyazaki Car Ferry, from 2005 to 2006, on the Hannan-Hyūga-Miyazaki line
The TAKACHIHO MARU seen operating off the Japanese coast in the early 1990s. Picture taken by Spyridon Roussos and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The TAKACHIHO MARU in Osaka in 1994. Picture published on www.idyllicocean.com.
Three years after changing her itinerary for the first time in her career, the TAKACHIHO MARU was again forced to operate on another service due to the arrival of the newly-built ships ordered by Marine Express for the Osaka-Miyazaki line. Indeed, with the completion of the MIYAZAKI EXPRESS and the OSAKA EXPRESS (known as the KOBE EXPRESS since 2014) in 1996 and 1997 respectively, the then-22-year-old TAKACHIHO MARU moved to the Kobe-Hyūga line, again connecting the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. She had also returned to Hyūga for the first time in 6 years. Her sister ship, the MIMITSU MARU, was withdrawn from the Osaka-Miyazaki line in 1997, and was sold to the Philippines-based company Negros Navigation. She left Japan as the MARY QUEEN OF PEACE and operated in her for her new operators until 2008, when she was sold for scrap at the age of 34.
The TAKACHIHO MARU in Kobe in 1997. Picture taken by Takayuki Murata and published on www.idyllicocean.com.
After three summer seasons on the Kobe-Hyūga line, Marine Express decided to permanently close the service. Therefore, the TAKACHIHO MARU ended her service in late 1998 and was put up for sale. Just a year later, her owners found a new buyer: the Greek-Cypriot company Access Ferries. This company was owned by the Valsamis family and had started operations on the Adriatic Sea in 1996. Indeed, they first operated the newly-built high speed ferry CAPTAIN GEORGE (which had ben built in The Netherlands) on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line, making her the first-ever high speed ferry to operate in Greece. While owning this ship, they operated as Catamaran Ferry Lines. Despite connecting all ports in just three hours (which remains the fastest-ever crossing on the Adriatic Sea), the service turned out to be a massive failure, and the company sold the ship to Minoan Lines in 1997, whereupon she was renamed HIGHSPEED 1. Two years later, this ship was transferred to Minoan Flying Dolphins (later Hellas Flying Dolphins and now known as Hellenic Seaways), marking the start of the popular 'Highspeed' brandname on the Cyclades. Having been left without a ship for two years, Catamaran Ferry Lines was rebranded as Access Ferries in 1999, and returned to the Adriatic Sea by deploying the German-built HERMES (built in 1967 and formerly the NILS HOLGERSSON and the ex-OLIVER TWIST of the German company TT-Line GmbH, as well as the ex-EUROPEAN PRIDE of the Greek company European Seaways) on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Brindisi line. After a respectable first season, the company went on to buy two new ships: the TAKACHIHO MARU and the MEMED ABASHIDZE of the Georgian company Gesco Line (built in 1967, formerly the DRAGON of Normandy Ferries/P&O Ferries and the IONIC FERRY of Townsend Thoresen and P&O European Ferries, as well as the VISCOUNTESS M and the CHARM M of the defunct Greek Adriatic Sea-based company Marlines), intending to operate them on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The TAKACHIHO MARU therefore left Kobe for the last time, leaving Japan in order to begin her new career in Europe. Before the long trip, she was temporarily renamed HO MARU (which was simply a quick shortening of her name prior to the new one that she would be getting under her new owners). She arrived in Perama in late 1999, and immediately began conversion, alongside the newly-acquired MEMED ABASHIDZE.
The HO MARU seen in her first-ever picture in Greece, shortly after having arrived from Japan. The picture shows her at the time during which she was undergoing the first stage of her long conversion, which consisted in adding extra decks next to the stern, as well as more outdoor areas. Furthermore, the areas around her bow were remodeled. Her Marine Express livery and funnel were still present at the time. Picture taken in 2000 by Panteleimon Lelekis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The HO MARU now seen undergoing a full conversion in Perama, with her entire hull and superstructure being rubbed over. Moreover, her newly-built stern has been completed, and her indoor areas were fully renovated, as they were changed from their Japanese features to the ones that better suited the European passengers' standards. Picture taken in 2000 by Panteleimon Lelekis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
After almost six months of conversion in Perama, the ship was finally ready to enter service for Access Ferries, having been completely renovated and her indoor areas being completely different from the ones she had during her early career in Japan. She was reflagged to Cyprus and was registered in Limassol. She was renamed MILLENNIUM EXPRESS, while the MEMED ABASHIDZE was renamed MILLENNIUM EXPRESS II. Both ships' names came as part of the change from the 2nd to the 3rd Millennium which occurred in 2000, the year during which they entered service for Access Ferries.
The MILLENNIUM EXPRESS seen in Perama, after her conversion was finally finished. She can be seen with the livery and the funnel of Access Ferries. Picture taken in 2000 by Panteleimon Lelekis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Just before the start of the 2000 season, it was announced that the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS II would be deployed on the Brindisi-Igoumenitsa-Çeşme line (connecting Italy with Greece and Turkey), while the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS was to be deployed on the Piraeus-Limassol-Haifa line, hence connecting Greece with Cyprus and Israel. The decision to operate the ship on the line was interesting, as this service was widely popular during the 1980s and early 1990s, but was undergoing a decline since the late 1990s as air transport became more popular for passengers and the continued geopolitical issues in the area scared shipping companies away. Therefore, there were few passengers eager to perform a 40-hour-long trip when they could cover the same distance within a couple of hours by plane.
The deployment of the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS proved to be average. Indeed, that was mainly due to the fact that the line proved to be too long for passengers (despite the ship's speed), due to the disorganisation of Access Ferries (many trips were canceled abruptly or had several delays, and there was a significant lack of communication of the crew with the shore office) and due to the strong competition that the ferry had to face against the Greek-Cypriot company Poseidon Lines and their ship, the SEA HARMONY II (also a former Japanese ferry) and the Greek-Cypriot company Salamis Lines and their ships (the SALAMIS STAR, the NISSOS KYPROS and the Ro-Ro carrier NOSTOS), all of which were already established on the line. Therefore, the ship's stint on the line lasted just one summer. She was then sent on charter to Tunisia Ferries (also known as Compagnie Tunisienne de Navigation) for the fall period of 2000, being deployed on the Marseille-Tunis line. This was the first of the many charters that the ship would go on to experience for the rest of the 2000s decade, as Access Ferries began to experience economic issues.
The MILLENNIUM EXPRESS seen in Marseille during her short charter to Tunisia Ferries. Picture taken in 2000 by Pedro Muñoz and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Besides the mixed results of the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS, Access Ferries also had a disappointing summer season on the Adriatic Sea with the HERMES and on the Brindisi-Igoumenitsa-Çeşme line with the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS II. As a result, the company began to face severe losses and continuous pressure from other competitors, who had faster and younger ships operating between Greece and Italy (such as Superfast Ferries, Blue Star Ferries, Minoan Lines and ANEK Lines). Valsamis eventually decided to invest in a completely different area: the Caribbean Sea. And he decided to do this by sending the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS on charter to the local company Ferries del Caribe. Alongside the latter, he also went on to charter the Northern European veteran ferry ADMIRAL OF SCANDINAVIA of DFDS Seaways, renaming her CARIBBEAN EXPRESS and also chartering her to Ferries del Caribe in 2002. The MILLENNIUM EXPRESS sailed to the Caribbean Sea in 2001, beginning operations for her new charterers on the Santo Domingo-Mayagüez line, hence connecting the Dominican Republic with Puerto Rico. She was also reflagged and registered to Panama. It is noteworthy to state that Ferries del Caribe is the company for which the ferry KYDON of ANEK Lines currently operates, having been chartered on a long-term contract since 2017.
After two seasons on the Caribbean Sea (one of which was shared alongside the CARIBBEAN EXPRESS), the charter of the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS ended. She was immediately inserted back to service for Access Ferries on the Brindisi-Çeşme line for the 2003 summer season. Indeed, the line had remained unoccupied after the 2002 season, as the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS II suffered from significant damages caused by a fire incident, which forced her company to sell her for scrap in 2003. The services of the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS on the Adriatic Sea and on the Aegean Sea were again seen as mediocre, due to the lack of preparations prior to her new employment, just after having returned from the Caribbean Sea. She was subsequently laid-up in Keratsini, and her owners, now under a complete decline (the CARIBBEAN EXPRESS finished her charter in 2003 and the HERMES was also sold for scrap) began to seek a new charterer. Access Ferries never deployed a ferry again following this season.
The MILLENNIUM EXPRESS seen in Keratsini in 2003, following the completion of her summer season on the Brindisi-Çeşme line. She was still carrying the livery that she bore during her charter to Ferries del Caribe. Picture taken by Georgios Grekos and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Prior to the summer of 2004, it was announced that the MILLENNIUM EXPRESS would be chartered to the Algerian company CNAN, which also traded under the name Maghreb Lines. She made her return to the Western Mediterranean Sea, and began operations on the Barcelona-Oran-Marseille line, thereby connecting Algeria with Spain and France. Her service proved to be quite successful, and she remained with the company for two additional seasons.
The MILLENNIUM EXPRESS seen arriving in Marseille in 2006, which was her last summer under CNAN. Picture taken by Julien Imbert and published on www.shipspotting.com.
Following the 2006 season, she sailed to Hamburg for a major upgrade, notably in order to upgrade her main engines. She stayed there for several months, and she was renamed EUROPEAN EXPRESS, which is the name she bore for the rest of her career. Shortly before the summer of 2007 began, she was chartered to another Algerian company, namely Algérie Ferries. She entered service for them on the Marseille-Oran line, which were two ports that she had previously served under CNAN. The latter chose to charter the legendary ferry LATO of ANEK Lines during the 2007 season, in order to perform the services formerly operated by the EUROPEAN EXPRESS.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen in Hamburg in 2007, just after having been renamed. Her CNAN insignia are in the process of being erased in order to be replaced by those of Algérie Ferries. Picture taken by Frank Jensen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen arriving in Marseille while operating for Algérie Ferries. Her charter lasted just one season. Picture taken in 2007 by Julien Imbert and published on www.shipspotting.com.
After the end of her charter under Algérie Ferries, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was laid-up for the winter in the Spanish port of Alicante. Soon afterwards, it was announced that she would be operating again on the Western Mediterranean Sea, being chartered to the Moroccan company COMANAV (also known as Compagnie Marocaine de Navigation). Therefore, after having previously served a company from Tunisia and two companies from Algeria, she was now being leased by a Moroccan company. This makes her the first and only ferry in history to have operated for companies coming from these three Maghrebin countries. She also became the only one to sail for the main companies of each country (although COMANAV has ceased operations since 2012). After a short refit, she returned to service, being deployed on the Melilla-Sète-Nador line, hence connecting, this time, Morocco with France and Spain.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen heading between Sète and Nador during the 2008 season, her first and only with COMANAV and the last one that she spent on the Western Mediterranean Sea. Picture taken by Carlos Trobat Morena and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
After an uneventful season with COMANAV, she returned to her owners, who however had been gone for a long time and therefore had no plans of reactivating the ship. As a result, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS returned to Greece in order to be laid-up. She headed directly for Elefsina Bay and was laid-up there for almost a year. In 2009, she was sent for further lay-up to Drapetsona.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen laid-up in Elefsina Bay during the summer of 2009, while she awaits her fate. Picture taken by Georgios Givisis and published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS subsequently laid-up in Drapetsona in 2009, while waiting for a new opportunity to appear so that she could return to service. Picture taken by Sebastiaan Toufekoulas and published on www.shipspotting.com.
While she waited for her fate for more than a year, there were many rumours concerning her future. The most usual was that she would be soon heading to the scrapyards due to her advanced age and her failure in finding a permanent operator ever since she arrived in Greece. But there seemed to be a few companies that were interested in her services, both from Greece and from overseas. Ultimately, it was revealed in early 2010 that she would be joining the well-known Lesbos-based company NEL Lines (NEL stands for Naftiliaki Etaireia Lesbou, which means 'Shipping Company of Lesbos' in Greek) in order to operate on the Northeast Aegean Sea.
The news were received with excitement by Greek shipping enthusiasts, as the ship was due to be a fine addition to her new company, which had found itself under a sudden rapid fleet expansion. Indeed, besides operating their established fleet with the veteran ferries THEOFILOS, MYTILENE and TAXIARCHIS and with many high speed craft (the AEOLOS KENTERIS, the AEOLOS KENTERIS I, the AEOLOS KENTERIS II, the PANAGIA THALASSINI and the PANAGIA PAROU), NEL Lines surprised the Greek coastal service world by taking over various ships owned by inactive companies such as the MYRTIDIOTISSA of ANEN Lines (which was renamed AQUA MARIA), the AQUA JEWEL of Alpha Ferries, the Ro-Ro carriers of Adriatic Lines RO-PAX 1 (which was renamed AQUA HERCULES) and RO-PAX 2 (which was renamed OLYMPUS) and the Ro-Ro carrier MYKONOS of Mykonos ANE (now the TALOS of Creta Cargo Lines). They also went on to charter the high speed craft of My Ferries that were being prepared for the summer season, namely the MYCAT I (which was renamed ALKIONI) and the MYCAT II (which was renamed CYCLADES EXPRESS, and is now the NAXOS JET of Sea Jets). They also chartered two Ro-Ro carriers built in Japan (one of which became the COLOSSUS, while the other one was renamed IPPOTIS). In 2011 they also added the ferry MR SHOPPY ONE that was previously operating for the Swedish company Mr. Shoppy and renamed her AQUA SPIRIT, and also bought the laid-up landing craft KONSTANTINOS G owned by Costar Lines, and reactivated on her previous service, on the Mytilene-Dikili line (connecting Lesbos with Turkey). Hence, the company found itself with a fully expanded fleet, and with numerous new areas to operate in. Previously, their only services were based on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line (with some occasional extensions to Limnos, Kavala or Thessaloniki), the Northeast Aegean Sea lifelines and the inter-Cyclades lifelines, where the AEOLOS KENTERIS I and the AEOLOS KENTERIS II were being deployed (before being respectively replaced by the AQUA JEWEL in 2010 and then by the AQUA SPIRIT in 2011). With the new additions, they could now operate on the Sporades, on the Heraklion-Santorini line, on the Adriatic Sea and the Dodecanese (with the Ro-Ro carriers). This rise was well received by passengers, but met with skepticism by some, as it seemed incomprehensible for a company that was mainly based on government-subsidised lifelines and under an unstable financial condition (especially during the mid 2000s) to buy and charter so many ferries at once, including some that had been inactive for as many as two years (including the EUROPEAN EXPRESS). Eventually, these acquisitions caused a huge debt for the company, from which they never recovered and which ended up sealing their demise just five years later.
Nevertheless, during what was considered to be a bright period for the company, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS began her refit in order to return to service once again. She was one of the first newly-acquired ships to begin preparation and conversion under the standards of NEL Lines. Her accommodation superstructure and main indoor areas were extensively refitted, as were her main engines in order for her to reach a maximum speed of 22 knots. She was reflagged to Cyprus and was registered to Limassol once again, which was an uncommon move for a NEL Lines ship. She hence became the first ship of NEL Lines to fly the Cypriot flag. After her conversion was finished in Perama, she was officially deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, which was the company's main line. She teamed up with the MYTILENE (which was spending her eighteenth straight summer on the line and has been acclaimed as one of the best ferries to have ever operated there) in order to compete against the two other ships that were serving the line. The first one was the then-3-year-old NISSOS CHIOS of Hellenic Seaways, which had already made a huge impact on the line due to her modern and speedy service, which was beginning to threaten the dominance of NEL Lines. The second one was the then-38-year-old historic ferry LISSOS of ANEK Lines, which had been on the line in 2008, after the THEOFILOS ran aground in Oinousses and was severely damaged. After deploying the KRITI II in 2009, ANEK Lines decided to insert the aging LISSOS back to the line for the 2010 season.
In July 2010, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS finally started operating on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Despite her being 36 years old at the time, she became an instant success on the line. While not as modern and as comfortable as the NISSOS CHIOS, she quickly became an asset for her company, thanks to her speed and her renovated indoor areas, which pleased passengers. She also had rare delays and constant speed throughout her trips. Hence, she finally showed the Greek coastal service that she was a useful ferry when being well-maintained (something that unfortunately was no longer the case in her subsequent NEL Lines career) and that she was a great asset, despite her advanced age. Alongside the equally-successful MYTILENE and the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline services of the THEOFILOS, NEL Lines was able to maintain a strong competition against ANEK Lines. Eventually, it was said that the success of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS led to the subsequent withdrawal of the LISSOS from the line after the season ended, with ANEK Lines selling the ship for scrap in early 2011. During her stint on the line, she was nicknamed 'O Evropaios', the Greek translation for 'The European'.
The newly-refurbished EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen in Piraeus in 2010, in her first day of service for NEL Lines. Picture taken by Georgios Koutsoukis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen entering the port of Piraeus during her debut season under NEL Lines in 2010. Picture taken by Eeerik Laine and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen loading passengers in the E3 gate in Piraeus, from which ferries heading to the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands usually depart, during the 2010 season. Picture taken by John Wilson and published on www.shipspotting.com.
After a successful first summer on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, the ship continued her service throughout the winter, and was back on the line for the summer of 2011 as well. She had another very satisfying season. However, in October 2011, she suffered an unfortunate accident as she collided with the VITSENTZOS KORNAROS of LANE Sea Lines in Piraeus, while the latter was returning to the port. Difficult weather conditions caused by intense winds made the LANE Sea Lines ship lose control and hit the NEL Lines ship with her bow, striking a part of the latter's hull. Both ships were however quickly repaired and returned to their respective services.
In 2012, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line, being teamed-up with the recently-refurbished THEOFILOS which had undergone a minor conversion in Perama. The MYTILENE had been sent to operate on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line. Both ships continued to operate on the main service of NEL Lines during the summer. However, a new threat emerged, namely the arrival of the newly-built BLUE STAR PATMOS of Blue Star Ferries. Indeed, the latter, built in 2012 in South Korea, was an extremely fast and modern cruiseferry that was deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Alongside the continuous presence of the NISSOS CHIOS (despite her missing a part of the season due to a collision with the pier of the port of Tinos), NEL Lines found themselves against two very modern ships that were clearly several levels above their aging ships. In the meantime, the company had already shown signs of instability, as several of the ships that they had chartered left after only one or two seasons. Indeed, the CYCLADES EXPRESS and the ALKIONI were sent for lay-up in 2010 and 2012 respectively, the departures of the IPPOTIS and of the COLOSSUS ended the company's presence on the Dodecanese after only two years, the AQUA HERCULES and the OLYMPUS had an unsuccessful spell on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line and were sold to the Emirati company SAMC (and spent the next years laid-up in Port Saïd, with the OLYMPUS heading for scrap in 2017), the PANAGIA THALASSINI and the PANAGIA PAROU ended their respective services on the Sporades and on the Northeast Aegean Sea in order to be chartered to Inter Shipping on the Algeciras-Tangier Med line on the Gibraltar Strait (a charter that lasted just a season and which turned out to be a disaster, as both owners and charterers ended up suffering from economic problems), and the AEOLOS KENTERIS, the AEOLOS KENTERIS I and the AEOLOS KENTERIS II were laid-up in Salamina, having been taken out of the company's plans due to the latter's poor financial situation.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen arriving in Chios in 2012, in what was her last summer connecting the island with Piraeus. Picture taken by Andreas Michopoulos and published on www.shipspotting.com.
All these problems, combined with the decrease of the passenger demand in the early 2010s due to the Greek government debt crisis, led to NEL Lines becoming vulnerable against Blue Star Ferries and Hellenic Seaways. In early 2013, both the EUROPEAN EXPRESS and the THEOFILOS were arrested by their respective crews. This further damaged the reputation of NEL Lines and clearly showed signs of their economic downfall. As a result of this, they were forced to withdraw from the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, therefore abandoning the line for the first time in their history, after having been present for 40 years and being the main company serving it during that period. They were intending to reactivate it during the summer of 2013 with another ship acquired on charter, namely the IONIAN SKY of Agoudimos Lines, but this eventually did not happen. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS was laid-up in Piraeus, before undergoing her annual refit in Perama in March of the same year. While there were rumours about her being inserted on the Dodecanese, she was eventually deployed on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline, serving the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line for the spring season. Her spell there was very irregular, as she suffered from several engine failures which were due to a lack of proper maintenance by the company. This marked the start of a disastrous coastal shipping period for the residents of the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands, as the EUROPEAN EXPRESS and her fleetmates (especially the TAXIARCHIS and later the THEOFILOS when she was reactivated) suffered many engine failures and experienced numerous delays and canceled trips. The company did little to improve the situation, and by the time the summer had started, it had found itself under turmoil. The THEOFILOS was still laid-up, the charter of the MYKONOS ended, the KONSTANTINOS G was abruptly withdrawn from her service and never returned to operate for NEL Lines (being instead sold to the Equatorial Guinean company Somagec the following year), the AQUA JEWEL suffered an engine failure which kept her laid-up in Lavrion for three months (and thus causing issues regarding the inter-Cycaldes services), the AQUA MARIA was forced to leave the Lavrion-Psara-Chios line several times in order to cover the service left by her engine-plagued fleetmates. It was a difficult situation, with problems that were ultimately never solved.
Shortly before the summer season, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS found a temporary refuge by being chartered to Ventouris Ferries in order to operate on the seasonal Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line. She entered service by cooperating with the IONIS of European Seaways (later the HORIZON, now scrapped since 2019) and was deployed on the Adriatic Sea for the first time in ten years, having last served the Brindisi-Çeşme line when she was still owned by Access Ferries. Her service on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline was taken over by the IONIAN SKY, which went on to have a disastrous season full of engine failures and delayed trips.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS seen arriving in Igoumenitsa in 2013, during her lone season under charter to Ventouris Ferries on the Adriatic Sea and on the Ionian Sea. Picture taken by Marios Ferentinos and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
A beautiful aerial view of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS in Igoumenitsa in 2013, clearly showing her Japanese look as well as the sun decks she acquired following her conversion in 2000. During the charter to Ventouris Ferries (a strong presence on the Adriatic Sea since 1986), the NEL Lines insignia on her hull were removed (and were never added again), but the ship kept the trireme-the well-known logo of NEL Lines-in her funnel. Picture taken by Marios Ferentinos and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS had a very successful season on her new line, and was widely praised by passengers for her reliable service and her larger capacity which made the trip more convenient for them. She only had one engine problem which was quickly fixed. After her charter ended, she rejoined NEL Lines, and was once again deployed on the Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line after the multiple problems experienced by the IONIAN SKY, which was sent for lay-up in Salamina (where she has continued to remain ever since). After the THEOFILOS returned to service later that year, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was sent to the Piraeus-Syros-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line in order to replace the MYTILENE, which went to Drapetsona for her annual refit. As soon as she rejoined NEL Lines, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS again started to have technical problems. She ended the year as the ship with the most engine failures in the entire Greek coastal service, along with the TAXIARCHIS. Therefore, despite her successful summer, she had a very bad stint on the Northeast Aegean Sea, but that was primarily due to the continuous problems faced by her company.
Many hoped that the summer of 2014 would be a summer of redemption for NEL Lines. However, these wishes soon turned into nightmares. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS again experienced several engine failures and delays, thus leaving many passengers livid and unsatisfied. The AQUA MARIA was sent for lay-up without any apparent reason, the TAXIARCHIS and the THEOFILOS also had technical problems, as did the AQUA JEWEL which suffered a new engine failure which definitively ended her NEL Lines career. Even the AQUA SPIRIT (by then the least troublesome ship of the company in terms of technical problems) started to occasionally experience engine troubles. The MYTILENE was not ready in time for the summer season because of her crew claiming to have been unpaid for many months. Eventually she returned to service in June, and this moved the EUROPEAN EXPRESS back to the Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line. She replaced the troublesome THEOFILOS, which was laid-up in Drapetsona and abruptly ended her NEL Lines career, having never returned to service since.
An interesting picture in Chios during the summer of 2014. It shows the EUROPEAN EXPRESS alongside the ARIADNE of Hellenic Seaways. The latter was spending her first full season on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line (where the EUROPEAN EXPRESS had previously operated from 2010 to 2012), while the former operated on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline for the first time during the summer season. This summer was her worst one throughout her NEL Lines spell, and ultimately the last of her career, as she was then laid-up permanently. Both ships were built in Japan, and both served Marine Express at some point during their careers, although not at the same time. The ARIADNE operated for them between 2004 and 2006 (the year during which she was sold to Hellenic Seaways), while the EUROPEAN EXPRESS had operated for them between 1990 and 1999. Picture taken by Nikos Chiotis and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The stint of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS on the Northeast Aegean Sea was beyond disastrous. Indeed, a lack of maintenance and the problems faced by the crew caused multiple delays that were even worse than the ones faced by the THEOFILOS. As a result, tourism in Ikaria, Samos, Chios, Lesbos and especially Limnos suffered due to the lack of efficient coastal service connection. Towards the end of the summer season, NEL Lines decided to switch the itineraries of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS and of the MYTILENE, in order to ensure a better connection of the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS as a result returned to the Piraeus-Syros-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line. After the MYTILENE also had an engine failure, the Ministry of Shipping and the Aegean finally had enough with NEL Lines and stripped them of their operating license and subsidy allowance for service on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline. The services were subsequently taken over by Hellenic Seaways, which connected all islands with Piraeus with larger, younger and more efficient ferries such as the ARIADNE, the NISSOS MYKONOS and later the NISSOS RODOS. Blue Star Ferries also entered the Piraeus-Samos-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line in 2015 with the BLUE STAR 1.
With NEL Lines not allowed to operate on the lifeline, they were only left with the services on the Piraeus-Syros-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line, the inter-Cyclades service of the AQUA SPIRIT and the Lavrion-Psara-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala lifeline served by the TAXIARCHIS. After the EUROPEAN EXPRESS had another engine failure in November 2014, she was finally withdrawn from service and was replaced by the MYTILENE. She was sent for lay-up in Drapetsona alongside the THEOFILOS and the AQUA MARIA. She never returned to service again. During the winter of 2014-2015, she had several minor collisions with the THEOFILOS, and was generally dangerous during stormy weather, as she had fragile knots which allowed her to move even while being moored and hit nearby ships. Beginning in 2016, the cellars of her stern ramp began to break at various times, which made the door land in the water and caused many fears of flooding within the ship's garage.
Th EUROPEAN EXPRESS experiencing difficulties with her stern ramp due to the damage of her cellars in Drapetsona in 2016. Despite the threats she posed, she remained there for two years, without any authorities pressing for her removal from the port. Picture taken in by Dennis Mortimer and published on www.shipspotting.com.
Without the EUROPEAN EXPRESS, NEL Lines was eager to continue operating despite being left with only three active ferries (while the others were laid-up and/or confiscated by the Piraeus Port Authority) and a fully weakened economic situation. Unfortunately, not only did things not improve, but instead worsened even further. The MYTILENE suffered a huge engine failure in Samos in early 2015, and left the crew abandoned and unpaid on the island for an entire year. A few months later, the TAXIARCHIS and the AQUA SPIRIT stopped service multiple times due to their crews remaining unpaid for months as well. The company still did not have the funds to solve the issue, and as a result both ships were arrested permanently and caused huge problems to the lines that they were serving. Eventually, NEL Lines was also kicked out from the Agios Efstratios lifeline and from the inter-Cyclades service, which were also taken over by Hellenic Seaways (a portion of the inter-Cyclades lifeline being also taken over by Sea Jets). This as a result marked the official end of the operations of NEL Lines, just before the start of the summer of 2015. The company's ships were all laid-up and were never reactivated for the once-glorious Lesbos-based maritime power.
With NEL Lines no longer active, their ships went on to await their eventual fates. Some were luckier, whereas others are still laid-up, while others like the EUROPEAN EXPRESS spent several years of misery before finally giving in to the torch-breakers. The MYKONOS joined Creta Cargo Lines in 2014 and was renamed TALOS, the AQUA JEWEL temporarily rejoined Alpha Ferries and returned to service in 2017 after having been bought by Sea Jets. The latter also bought the AQUA SPIRIT and the CYCLADES EXPRESS in early 2016, and reactivatied them for service on the Cyclades. The AQUA MARIA was bought by Aqua Ferries, was again renamed MYRTIDIOTISSA and entered service on the Sporades in 2016 (later becoming the ALEXANDRA L of the now-inactive Kefalonian Lines in 2018). The PANAGIA THALASSINI returned to Greece after having been bought by Idomeneas Lines (owned by the Panagiotopoulos family) and being renamed KALLI P, but never re-entered service due to debts owed by NEL Lines. The PANAGIA PAROU remained laid-up in Algeciras until sinking inside the port in 2017, eventually being refloated and sold for scrap to Turkey in 2018. The IONIAN SKY and the high speed craft ALKIONI, AEOLOS KENTERIS I and AEOLOS KENTERIS II have remained in Salamina for years and are progressively becoming more assimilated to the scrapyards despite their young age (with the exception of the IONIAN SKY which is 45 years old). The TAXIARCHIS was laid-up in Lavrion from 2015 to 2018 and is now also in Salamina awaiting her fate. The THEOFILOS had a troublesome time in Drapetsona and was finally towed to Elefsina Bay in 2017, remaining permanently laid-up there. The MYTILENE has also been there since 2016, after having spent an entire year laid-up in Samos. All ferries have been placed on auction, but all attempts to have them sold and removed from the Piraeus area have failed so far.
The EUROPEAN EXPRESS ended her stay in Drapetsona in 2016, and was towed to Perama in order to continue her lay-up. This is where I saw her for the first and only time in my life, as stated previously.
My first-ever picture of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS laid-up and abandoned in Perama, during the summer of 2018.
The once-proud Japanese cruiseferry EUROPEAN EXPRESS laid-up in Perama, awaiting the end during the summer of 2018, which was the last one she ever experienced.
And this was the last picture I ever took of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS. Notice her cracked bow due to the collisions she had with the THEOFILOS while both ships were laid-up in Drapetsona. I knew there was going to be a possibility that I would never see the ship again, so I symbolically waved at her as if I had known that she would be leaving for good a few months after I had seen her.
And my thoughts eventually turned out to be a reality, as the EUROPEAN EXPRESS now belongs to history. In early 2019, after yet another auction held by the Piraeus Port Authority, she was finally sold for scrap, and left on 27 January 2019 for Aliağa in Turkey. It was her first trip in five years, but the last one she would ever perform in the 45 years of her career, with the last 9 having been under the historic NEL Lines. A trip with no passengers nor vehicles, a trip without any purpose other than to meet the scrapyards for the first time. She sailed under the simple name EXPRESS (which was part of her two names since 2000) and left Greece for the last time. She is now being demolished, but her history and legacy will still live on. Her former NEL Lines fleetmates are still left laid-up in Salamina and in Elefsina. Some of them have been laid-up for four years, others for five and some for eight. There is little hope they will return to service (especially the older ferries such as the THEOFILOS, the MYTILENE and the TAXIARCHIS), and I foresee that they will follow the EUROPEAN EXPRESS to Turkey in the near-future.
Even though she had many attributes, including being the fastest ferry in the world at the time of her entry to service in 1974, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was never able to become one of the best ships of the Greek coastal service, despite her flawless career in Japan. But as this post analysed it, it was clearly because of a lack of organisation by both owners she had while operating in Greece, and due to their economic decline at the time during which they acquired the ship. Hence, with a lack of maintenance and support from her companies, she was easily left behind her competitors. It is also noteworthy to state that she was already 25 years old at the time she first arrived in Europe, during an era in which many companies were deploying newly-built cruiseferries. But she did have some bright moments, notably during her first two seasons under NEL Lines on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line (2010 and 2011) and also when she operated on the Ionian Sea and on the Adriatic Sea under Ventouris Ferries in 2013. Furthermore, her long career saw her travel around many parts of the world, having operated in Japan, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, France, Algeria, Morocco and Spain. She covered most of the Mediterranean Sea, served three Maghrebin countries, had an experience on the Caribbean Sea and in the Middle East, all the while serving the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands.
Despite her turbulent end, marked by below-par services in 2013-2014 due to many engine failures and the incidents she had while being laid-up in Drapetsona, she will be remembered by many due to her impressive appearance inspired from her homeland, Japan, and for her fast service when she was sailing during her peak years. She has at least found peace after several difficult years, and many will keep remembering her for her potential and for all the elements I listed above. Therefore, EUROPEAN EXPRESS, I would like to thank you for your contribution to the Greek coastal service.