Goodbye EXPRESS PEGASUS
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen in Perama in September 2021, just three months before she left Greece forever in order to head for demolition, after 27 successful years on the Adriatic Sea and on the Aegean Sea.
Last month, the Greek coastal service lost one of its greatest-ever members, as the legendary ferry EXPRESS PEGASUS of Hellenic Seaways left Greece for the last time in order to be scrapped in the Turkish coastal city of Aliağa. This therefore marked the end of an illustrious career for a much-acclaimed ferry, which had a very successful 27-year-long spell in Greece, and most notably on the Aegean Sea, where she first arrived in 1996, following two seasons on the Adriatic Sea. For some, she remains the iconic PEGASUS of Ventouris Ferries, while, for others, she was the reliable EXPRESS PEGASUS that served many key services of Hellenic Seaways, even as she became older and began to be outperformed by the newly-built vessels that were deployed on the Aegean Sea during the 2000s. Despite these challenges and occasionally being out of the plans of her final owners, she nevertheless continued to operate way beyond anyone would have imagined, and it was only an unfortunate accident in the islet of Armathia near Kasos on the Dodecanese during the summer of 2020 that eventually sealed her fate, as she was never repaired and was sold for scrap after a year of lay-up in Perama. Had this event never occurred, perhaps she could have continued her career even though she was 44 years old.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS originally began her career in Italy, as the ESPRESSO VENEZIA of the iconic Italian company Adriatica Di Navigazione, which in turn chartered her to the fellow state-owned Italian ferry company Tirrenia Di Navigazione for 12 years. During that period, she operated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, providing excellent service, although she would usually be replaced by larger tonnage on the different lines on which she was assigned, due to the Italian ferry market experiencing a significant boom during the 1980s. The ship was part of the famed Espresso Livorno-class, a successful quartet of ships that played a key role on the connection of Italy with the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Most notably, all ships had a spell on the Adriatic Sea, and two of them, the ESPRESSO RAVENNA (as the VENEZIA) and the ESPRESSO LIVORNO (as the GRECIA) were owned by the Greek company Halkidon Shipping, but they were instead deployed on the connection between Italy and Albania under flags of convenience. After 13 very successful years on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the ESPRESSO VENEZIA finally found a role under Adriatic Di Navigazione, for whom she spent the 1989 season on the Patras-Brindisi line. However, this turned out to be her sole season under the company, as in 1990 she was then fully transferred back to Tirrenia Di Navigazione, for whom she was introduced on the Reggio Calabria-Catania-Valletta line as the ESPRESSO MALTA. After two years, she was laid-up in Palermo in 1992, as the service was not deemed successful. After two years of lay-up, she was bought by the well-known Greek company Ventouris Ferries, which had become an established player on the Adriatic Sea during the 1980s. She was renamed PEGASUS and was inserted on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, where she had a decent spell. In 1996, her company made a significant move when it decided to deploy her on the domestic Greek market, namely on the Western Cyclades lifeline, which had started to become one of the most competitive services of the Aegean Sea. After a difficult start marked by a major accident in the islet of Patroklos in late 1996, the ship soon became a major success on the line, becoming one of the most beloved ships of the Aegean Sea and, for many, the second greatest ship in the history of the Western Cyclades, after her main competitor (and later fleetmate), the legendary MILOS EXPRESS of Lindos Lines. Despite this success, Ventouris Ferries was unable to stay present on the Aegean Sea for long, as its domestic services were taken over in late 1999 by the newly-established giants Minoan Flying Dolphins, a company which absorbed several prominent shipping operators of the 1990s, and was close to being a monopoly on the Cyclades, on the Northeast Aegean Sea, on the Sporades and on the Saronic Gulf. The PEGASUS remained on the Western Cyclades, operating as the EXPRESS DIONISOS under the Hellas Ferries division. The new company, which became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002, experienced a tumultuous period during the early 2000s, and soon most of its oldest ferries were outperformed by newly-built vessels, and many of them were poorly maintained. As a result of this, several ships of the company were sold for scrap or to other companies. The EXPRESS DIONYSOS was spared from this fate, as she continued to be a part of the company's plans. She was renamed EXPRESS PEGASUS in 2002, and remained in the company's fleet in 2005, the year during which they rebranded themselves as Hellenic Seaways. That same year, she moved to the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Samos line on the Northeast Aegean Sea, where she stayed for three seasons. After being replaced by the newly-built NISSOS MYKONOS, she was deemed to surplus requirements by Hellenic Seaways. Despite this, she was not sold, instead remaining as a spare vessel and covering the services of her fleetmates when they would be undergoing their annual refits. She spent a large part of the 2008 season on the Piraeus-Gytheion-Kalamata-Kythira-Antikythira-Kissamos lifeline, as she replaced the incumbent ferry operating there, as the latter experienced several technical issues combined with the financial difficulties of her company. Unfortunately, after a permanent successor was introduced on this line, the EXPRESS PEGASUS once again failed to find a role during the 2009 season, especially after experiencing a major engine failure that kept her laid-up in Drapetsona for over a year. However, in 2010, she finally re-entered her company's plans, as she was deployed on the Agios Konstantinos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line on the Sporades during the summer. She remained in this service for five seasons. After several rumours regarding her next employment, she was eventually placed on the Lavrion-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala line in 2015, hence taking over the service abandoned by NEL Lines, which shut down operations due to financial difficulties. Despite this being a demanding service, the EXPRESS PEGASUS operated there with much success, and was much-appreciated by passengers and residents of the Northeast Aegean Sea. Her spell there ended in 2020, when the lifeline was assigned to Sea Jets. The ship managed to find a new area of service, this time being the Dodecanese, as she was placed on the new Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes lifeline during the summer of 2020. However, she ran aground in the islet of Armathia, and this prematurely ended her season, and, ultimately, her career, as she remained laid-up in Perama for a year, until she was sold for scrap last month. At the time of her departure, she was the oldest ship of Hellenic Seaways, and the third ship of the Espresso Livorno-class to have been sold for scrap, as her two sister ships, the GRECIA and the VENEZIA, had met the same fate back in 2010.
As I am writing this post, the EXPRESS PEGASUS is no longer among us, as her scrapping in Aliağa has already finished. Her departure for the demolition yards was very painful, as we were talking about a great ship that provided excellent service for almost three decades. She has been acclaimed for her longevity and her versatility, as she was deployed across numerous different lines on the Aegean Sea, including on some of the most competitive and most demanding ones of the Greek coastal service. She is one of the few ships to have served the main areas of the Aegean Sea, as she operated on the Cyclades, on the Northeast Aegean Sea, on the Sporades and on the Dodecanese, while having also been deployed on the Adriatic Sea. She was became an icon on the Western Cyclades, with many frequent passengers to these islands stating that, even in today's standards, few or no ships have ever operated there as successfully as she did. These statements have been made despite her staying on the Western Cyclades for less than 10 years. Her later career under Hellenic Seaways was also very successful, and she always operated effectively on every area that she was called to serve. After having two years of uncertainty due to her company not counting on her and due to technical troubles, she had a successful resurgence during the 2010s, and only her grounding in Armathia in 2020 resulted in her being permanently withdrawn from service, and subsequently being sold for demolition. In addition to her lengthy career, she was also noted for her speed (especially during her first years in Greece), her large garage, her comfortable indoor areas and her pleasant outdoor areas (particularly those in the stern section), and her excellent sailing abilities during intense weather conditions. Several passengers continued to appreciate her towards the end of her career, as she reminded them of the memorable trips that she performed during the 1990s, which were a golden era for the Greek coastal service.
Just like all Ship Farewell Tribute posts that I have done in the past, this Blog post covers the entire history of the EXPRESS PEGASUS, from her career in Italy until her final year under Hellenic Seaways. Notably, she is the third ship that has previously operated for Ventouris Ferries for which I have to write such a post these past few months, after the RIGEL I in September 2021 and the BARI just a month later. However, unlike both vessels, which were photographed back when they were still operating on the Adriatic Sea, I never had the chance to see the EXPRESS PEGASUS until the summer of 2021, despite her frequent presence in Piraeus during the 2000s and having also stopped in Lavrion in 2015. As a result of this, I only have three pictures of the famed ship, with all of them being during her lay-up in Perama, just three months before she was sold for scrap. Due to her operating during the late 2000s and the 2010s on the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Sporades, areas in which I have never been so far, I could not witness the ship during her final active years under Hellenic Seaways, let alone take pictures of her. Thankfully, seeing several pictures, videos and trip experiences onboard her published online helped me grasp the importance of this ship, as well as her unique career, which I will now present in detail.
The ship that went on to become the EXPRESS PEGASUS was ordered in 1976 by the Italian state-owned company Adriatica Di Navigazione. Due to be named ESPRESSO VENEZIA, she was part of the second pair of the Espresso Livorno-class, a famed quartet of vessels built at Cantieri Navali Luigi Orlando Shipyard in Livorno in Italy (which also built the famous armored cruiser GEORGIOS AVEROF, which was the flagship of the Hellenic Navy during the first half of the 20th century). The ships of this quartet are considered to be the first Ro-Pax ferries of the Mediterranean Sea. The first pair of the class was originally ordered by the Italian company Trans Tirreno Express, which had been founded by the Greek shipowner Spyros Magliveras in 1970 and was active until 1981. The first pair of ships consisted of the ESPRESSO LIVORNO, built in 1973, and the ESPRESSO CAGLIARI, built in 1974. Both ships were inserted on the Livorno-Olbia line on the Tyrrhenian Sea. In 1976, they both joined Adriatica Di Navigazione, initially under charter, and operated on a successful service linking Italy with Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, on the Venice-Piraeus-Heraklion-İstanbul-İzmir-Alexandria-Limassol-Haifa line. As they were satisfied with the performance of these two vessels, two additional sister ships were ordered. These ferries were also due to be built at the Luigi Orlando Shipyard, and were planned to enter service on the lengthy itinerary served by their two older sister ships under the historic company Adriatica Di Navigazione. The latter had been founded in 1936, back when the Italian fascist regime began to manage four state-owned passenger shipping companies in order to maintain full control of the Italian shipping sector. The four companies were named according to the areas on which they operated, The first company was Italia Di Navigazione (also known as Italian Line, founded in 1932), which operated ocean liners from Italy to the United States and later to South America before shifting to the cruise industry in the 1970s and then to freight shipping in the 1980s before being privatised in 1998 following a takeover by D'Amico Società Di Navigazione (who then sold the company to the Canadian company CP Ships in 2002, with the latter now part of the German giants Hapag-Lloyd). The second one was Lloyd Triestino (founded in 1919), which also operated ocean liners from Italy to Africa, Asia and Australia, before also transitioning to the container segment during the 1970s, and being known as Italia Marritima, a subsidiary of the Taiwanese giants Evergreen Marine Corporation since 2006. The other two companies were both founded in 1936. The first one was Tirrenia Di Navigazione, dedicated to the passenger traffic between mainland Italy and Sardinia and Sicily on the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the second one, Adriatica Di Navigazione, was dedicated to the connection of Italy with Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, mainly through the Adriatic Sea. The company also served the Tremiti Islands on the Adriatic Sea. When World War II ended and the fascist regime collapsed in 1945, the company dedicated itself mostly to the services on the Adriatic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Egypt, Turkey and later Israel. In 1961, they formed a joint venture alongside their Greek rivals Hellenic Mediterranean Lines on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line, whereupon they introduced the first-ever ferry connection between Patras and Brindisi. This service was provided by the legendary EGNATIA of the Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, which had already started service in 1960 and went on to spend her entire operational career on the aforementioned line, until her retirement in 1996. Adriatica Di Navigazione, in turn, deployed the newly-built ferry APPIA, which operated on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line for 28 years, becoming an iconic ferry as well. The company's success lasted throughout the entirety of the 1960s, and in the early 1970s they also provided additional freight service through effective Ro-Ro carriers, before experiencing further growth through the acquisition of the ESPRESSO CAGLIARI in 1974, followed by that of the ESPRESSO LIVORNO in 1976. Their deployment to Egypt and the Middle East was praised by passengers, and the company therefore decided to order two more ships from the Espresso Livorno-class.
While the third ship was being built in the Luigi Orlando Shipyard, Adriatica Di Navigazione eventually saw its services on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea severely impacted by the geopolitical tensions in Egypt and the Middle East. The state-owned company therefore came to the conclusion that the two newly-built ferries could not enter service under such conditions. Instead of deploying them on a service between Italy and Greece, Adriatica Di Navigazione decided to charter them to the fellow state-owned company Tirrenia Di Navigazione, which planned to introduce them on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The third ship was eventually completed just in time for the 1977 summer season, and began service on the Genoa-Porto Torres line as the ESPRESSO VENEZIA. Her name is the Italian translation of 'Venice Express', and she was named after the famed Italian city, where she was due to operate under Adriatica Di Navigazione (although Tirrenia Di Navigazione eventually decided to maintain her original name). She was registered in Venice, and became the first Ro-Pax ferry to operate on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Her sister ship, the ESPRESSO RAVENNA, entered service in 1978, therefore completing the quartet. She was also inserted on the Genoa-Porto Torres line, which connected mainland Italy with Sardinia.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA seen during her launching ceremony in the Luigi Orlando Shipyard in Livorono, in early 1977, a few months before she began her career under Tirrenia Di Navigazione. Picture published on www.naviecapitani.it.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA became an instant success for Tirrenia Di Navigazione, as her status as a Ro-Pax ferry enabled her to transport significant amount of lorries heading to Sardinia, in addition to her large passenger capacity. Indeed, she could transport 1,300 passengers, which at the time was considered a huge number for a ferry. She therefore became a key component of the Italian state-owned giant, which was seeing its fleet growing exponentially during the 1960s and the 1970s, thanks to the ever-increasing tourism in Sardinia and Sicily during that period. Indeed, due to major economic boom experienced by Italy after World War II, tourism and industrial activities in both major Italian islands grew significantly. As a result, passenger and freight demand to both islands also increased substantially, as did ferry services from Italy to Malta, Libya and Tunisia. Besides the ESPRESSO VENEZIA and the ESPRESSO RAVENNA, Tirrenia Di Navigazione had made huge investments in new ferries during the 1970s. Indeed, it ordered eight ships that were part of the Poeta-class. All of them were built in Italy, and were delivered between 1970 and 1978. One of these ships was the VERGA, built in 1978 and deployed on the Civitavecchia-Olbia line, which in 1997 became the famous DIMITROULA of the Greek company GA Ferries, for whom she operated on many services across the Aegean Sea until she was sold for scrap in 2011. In addition to these ships, Tirrenia Di Navigazione also deployed several Ro-Ro carriers that would serve the increasing freight demand between Italy, France and Northern Africa (namely the STAFFETTA JONICA, the STAFFETTA ADRIATICA and the STAFFETTA TIRRENICA, all of which joined the company in 1973), as well as other ferries such as the LA VALLETTA (built in 1971, she operated on the Syracuse-Valletta line before being sold in 1976 to fellow Italian company Siremar, while she later became the MISTRAL II of the Greek cruise line Epirotiki Cruises and then the MARIA PA of Golden Ferries, the predecessor of Idomeneas Lines) and her successor, the MALTA EXPRESS (which operated for the company from 1976 to 1988, and later became the MOBY WILL of future rivals Moby Lines). Finally, the company also made significant investments on regional services based out of Sardinia, deploying dozens of smaller ferries to operate on different itineraries, such as the Portovesme-Carloforte line (served by the Dutch-built ferry CARLOFORTE, previously the ROSPIGGEN of the Finnish company Eckerö Linjen) or the Palau-La Maddalena line.
Despite all these successful introductions, the fleet of Tirrenia Di Navigazione at the end of the 1970s was still unable to sustain the continuous rise of passenger and vehicle traffic on the Tyrrhenian Sea. To that end, the company proceeded to ordering six new ferries, at the time the largest to have ever been built in an Italian shipyard. They were due to be delivered between 1979 and 1981, as part of the Strade Romane-class built in the Italcantieri Shipyard in Castellamare di Stabia, with the exception of one ship which was built in the famous Fincantieri Shipyard. The first ship to be delivered, the DOMIZIANA (today the AF FRANCESCA of Adria Ferries), began service in 1979 on the Genoa-Porto Torres line, whereupon she replaced the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, which was sent to operate on the Genoa-Cagliari line. Only one year later, the fifth ship of the Strade Romane-class, the AURELIA, was also deployed on the Genoa-Porto Torres line, thereby taking over the service of the ESPRESSO RAVENNA, which was reunited with her sister ship on the Genoa-Cagliari line. Both ships continued to operate very effectively for the company on this new line, where they went on to stay for the next eight years.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA seen in the port of Cagliari in Sardinia in 1979, during her first year of service on the Genoa-Cagliari line, after having previously started her career on the Genoa-Porto Torres line. Despite spending the first 12 years of her career under charter to Tirrenia Di Navigazione, she never featured the company's famous all-white livery. Instead, she maintained the colours of her first owners, namely Adriatica Di Navigazione. Picture published on www.naviearmatori.net.
The beautiful ESPRESSO VENEZIA, admired by many for her impressive silhouette which highlighted the reputed design skills of the Italian shipbuilders, seen as she arrives in the port of Genoa, during the 1979 season. Picture taken by Carlo Martinelli and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA seen arriving in Cagliari in 1981, during her third season on the Genoa-Cagliari line. Picture published on www.naviearmatori.net.
A view of one of the three sister ships of the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, namely the ESPRESSO RAVENNA (who was her main partner for 11 years) in the port of Genoa in 1979. She was built in 1978, being the youngest ship of the Espresso Livorno-class. Just like the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, she was owned by Adriatica Di Navigazione, but was chartered to Tirrenia Di Navigazione. She was deployed on the Genoa-Porto Torres line in 1978, before moving to the Genoa-Cagliari line in 1980. She remained there until 1987, when she was inserted on the Naples-Cagliari line. In 1990 she returned under the management of Adriatica Di Navigazione, and she took her sister ship's name, hence becoming the new ESPRESSO VENEZIA (the original one had been renamed ESPRESSO MALTA at the time). She was deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line on the Adriatic Sea. In 1992 she was deployed on the Ancona-Split line, before moving to the Ancona-Bar line in 1994, followed by the Ancona-Durrës line in 1999. In 2003 she was sold to the Greek company Halkidon Shipping. She was renamed VENEZIA and was deployed on the Trieste-Durrës line. During the summer of 2005, she returned to the Ancona-Durrës line under charter to Adria Ferries. She subsequently returned to her owners, and began operating on the Trieste-Bari-Durrës line in 2006. She was sold for scrap to Turkey in 2010. Picture published on www.naviearmatori.net.
A view of the ESPRESSO LIVORNO, the lead ship of the Espresso Livorno-class, as she undergoes her maneuvering procedure in her namesake port in 1974. She was built in 1973 for Trans Tirreno Express, and she was deployed on the Livorno-Olbia line. In 1976 she was chartered to Adriatica Di Navigazione, alongside her sister ship, the ESPRESSO CAGLIARI (built in 1974). They were both assigned on the Venice-Piraeus-Heraklion-İstanbul-İzmir-Alexandria-Limassol-Haifa line. In 1980, the ESPRESSO LIVORNO was definitely bought by Adriatica Di Navigazione, was renamed ESPRESSO GRECIA, and was deployed on the Patras-Brindisi line on the Adriatic Sea, before shifting to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line in 1983. In 1989 she began serving the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line. In 1992 she was inserted on the Ancona-Durrës line. In 1995 she was deployed on the Trieste-Durrës line. She remained in this service even after she was sold in 1999 to Halkidon Shipping, for whom she was renamed GRECIA. Her sister ship, the ESPRESSO VENEZIA (which was renamed VENEZIA) joined her in 2003. In 2006 she started to operate on the Trieste-Bari-Durrës line, where she remained until she was sold for scrap to Turkey together with the VENEZIA in 2010. Picture taken by Egidio Ferrighi and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
A view of the third sister ship of the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, namely the ESPRESSO CAGLIARI, undergoing her maneuvering procedure in the port of Piraeus in 1978, as part of her long itinerary on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea under Adriatica Di Navigazione. She was the second ship of the Espresso Livorno-class to be built, after having been delivered to Trans Tirreno Express in 1974. In 1976, after two years of service on the Livorno-Olbia line, she and the ESPRESSO LIVORNO were chartered to Adriatica Di Navigazione, and was deployed on the Venice-Piraeus-Heraklion-İstanbul-İzmir-Alexandria-Limassol-Haifa line. In 1980 she was definitely sold to Adriatica Di Navigazione, being renamed ESPRESSO EGITTO. She continued to link Italy with Greece and Egypt, serving the Venice-Bari-Piraeus-Heraklion-Alexandria line. In 1991 she underwent an extensive conversion in La Spezia, during which her accommodation superstructure was entirely remodeled. She therefore looked completely different when placed next to her sister ships, as she featured an upgraded stern (which saw the addition of five passenger decks) and a fully-remodeled bow. She was renamed EGITTO EXPRESS and resumed service on the Venice-Bari-Patras-Piraeus-Heraklion-Alexandria line. In 1993 she was deployed on the Trieste-Durrës line, while in 1994 she was inserted on the Patras-Brindisi line. In 1998 she remained as the last vessel of Adriatica Di Navigazione to be employed between Greece and Italy, as she was on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line. Her company eventually stopped serving Greece after the 2000 season, and, during the summers of 2001 and of 2002, the ship was chartered to the Greek company Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, for whom she operated on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line. In 2003 she was deployed on the Bari-Durrës line. After the closure of Adriatica Di Navigazione in 2004, she was sold to the newly-established Italian company Adria Ferries and was renamed RIVIERA DEL CONERO. She was deployed on the Ancona-Durrës line. Her 2005 season was cut short due to a severe engine failure, but she was nevertheless repaired and returned to service in 2006. She acquired sponsons in 2010, while in 2012 she was renamed AF MICHELA. In 2015 she was sold to the Italian company Traghetti Delle Isole and she was renamed LAMPEDUSA. She was inserted on the Porto Empedocle-Linosa-Lampedusa line on the Pelagie Islands Archipelago in early 2016, but she soon moved to the Trapani-Pantelleria line on the Sicilian Strait. She suffered another major engine failure in late 2017, and this caused her to be laid-up in Trapani and to miss the entire 2018 season. She was repaired in 2019 and resumed service on the Trapani-Pantelleria line, where she remains today. She is the only surviving member of the Espresso Livrono-class following the retirement of the EXPRESS PEGASUS in 2021. Picture taken by Kenneth Gibson and published on www.shipspotting.com.
After spending eight successful years on the Genoa-Cagliari line, the ESPRESSO VENEZIA had to be replaced by larger tonnage as a result of the continuous rise in passenger traffic. Tirrenia Di Navigazione considered ordering new ferries, but they instead decided to upgrade some of their Ro-Ro carriers. Indeed, three such vessels, the STAFFETTA MEDITERRANEA, the STAFFETTA LIGURE and the STAFFETTA JONICA (the second ship of the company to carry that name, as the first one had been sold in 1978), which were three sister ships of the Staffetta-class that was delivered between 1979 and 1980 in order to provide freight traffic from Genoa and Naples to Sardinia, Sicily and Libya, all underwent a major conversion during which they became conventional ferries. The upgrades were performed in La Spezia, and the three ferries became part of the new Sociale-class. The first ship to be converted was the STAFFETTA JONICA, which was renamed ARBOREA in 1987. She would later go on to be bought by the Greek company GA Ferries in 2004, however her overall condition was extremely poor, and she was sold for scrap without ever entering service on the Aegean Sea, as it had been planned initially. The STAFFETTA MEDITERRANEA was also refitted in 1987, and was renamed TORRES, while the STAFFETTA LIGURE became the CARALIS. The ARBOREA and the TORRES were inserted on the Genoa-Cagliari line during the 1987 season, hence replacing the ESPRESSO VENEZIA and the ESPRESSO RAVENNA. The latter pair was moved to the Naples-Cagliari line, and therefore continued to operate on the Tyrrhenian Sea. They replaced the two ferries that were previously serving this line, namely the veteran sister ships CALABRIA and SICILIA (two former passenger-only ships of the Regione-class built in 1952, which were converted into conventional ferries in 1967 and in 1968, respectively), which were retired and subsequently sold for scrap in 1988.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA seen on the Tyrrhenian Sea during the 1988 season, which she spent on the Naples-Cagliari line. Picture published on www.naviecapitani.it.
Although the ESPRESSO VENEZIA provided reliable service on the Naples-Cagliari line, she only stayed there for two seasons, as she was eventually linked with a return under her owners, namely Adriatica Di Navigazione. The latter had ended the joint venture that they had along with Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, and sought to reshuffle their fleet on the Greece-Italy service. At the same time, Tirrenia Di Navigazione decided to deploy another ship owned by Adriatica Di Navigazione on the Naples-Cagliari line, the ferry TINTORETTO (built in 1966 and previously linking Italy with the former Yugoslavia during the 1980s), which they chartered in late 1988. With these changes, the ESPRESSO VENEZIA joined Adriatica Di Navigazione in 1989, and therefore finally began service for her owners, after having spent the first 12 years of her career with Tirrenia Di Navigazione. She was one of the three ferries that were deployed by Adriatica Di Navigazione on the service between Greece and Brindisi. The other two ships were her sister ship, the ESPRESSO GRECIA (previously the ESPRESSO LIVORNO), and the TIEPOLO (which had joined Adriatica Di Navigazione in 1981), which was also deployed in Greece for the first time in her career. The ESPRESSO VENEZIA was deployed on the Patras-Brindisi line, hence providing the direct service between the two main ports, whereas the ESPRESSO GRECIA was deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line, hence replacing the veteran ferry APPIA, which moved to the Ancona-Split-Dubrovnik line. The TIEPOLO was the ship that performed the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line, which had previously been served by the ESPRESSO GRECIA.
An aerial picture of the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, which was used in the brochures provided by Adriatica Di Navigazione during the 1989 season. Picture published on www.nautilia.gr.
The ESPRESSO VENEZIA seen arriving in Igoumenitsa during a summer evening in 1989, during her debut season on the Adriatic Sea and under Adriatica Di Navigazione. This call to Igoumenitsa must have been performed under special circumstances, as the ship would usually operate on the Patras-Brindisi line. Picture taken by Stefanos Antoniadis and published on www.adriaticandaegeanferries.com.
The 1989 season marked the first summer during which the ESPRESSO VENEZIA was deployed in Greece, a country where she would then go on to have an extremely successful career. Thanks to her speed, she had a rather good season with Adriatica Di Navigazione, and she competed well against the two other companies serving Brindisi from Greece, namely Hellenic Mediterranean Lines and Fragline. Her direct service from Patras to Brindisi was effective, and her large garage enabled more vehicles to travel directly from Greece to Italy. Moreover, this was the first time that she was fleetmates with her two older sister ships, namely the ESPRESSO VENEZIA and the ESPRESSO EGITTO (previously the ESPRESSO CAGLIARI). However, her first season under Adriatica Di Navigazione would ultimately be her only one, as she was eventually sold to Tirrenia Di Navigazione. As a result, she returned to the latter for a second stint, although this time she was fully owned by the company. Adriatica Di Navigazione decided to replace her by bringing in a ship that they also owned but had chartered to Tirrenia Di Navigazione. This was none other than the ESPRESSO RAVENNA, the sister ship of the ESPRESSO VENEZIA, which ended service on the Naples-Cagliari line under Tirrenia Di Navigazione following the 1989 season. She joined her owners for the first time, after having also spent 12 years under charter to Tirrenia Di Navigazione. She made her debut on the Adriatic Sea in 1990, whereupon she was renamed, becoming the new ESPRESSO VENEZIA, and being inserted on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line. As for the original ESPRESSO VENEZIA, she returned to Tirrenia Di Navigazione under a new name. Indeed, she became the ESPRESSO MALTA, as the company now intended to have her deployed on the Reggio Calabria-Catania-Valletta line on the Malta Channel, hence connecting mainland Italy and Sicily with Malta. She began this new service during the summer of 1990. The company therefore returned to Malta for the first time since 1988, after having previously sold the MALTA EXPRESS to Navarma Lines, a company known as the predecessor of Moby Lines. During her spell on the Reggio Calabria-Catania-Valletta line, the ESPRESSO MALTA notably competed against the Maltese company Virtu Ferries, which had started operations between Sicily and Malta in 1988. She notably became the victim of an alleged hijacking during the summer of 1991, when she had been requisitioned by the Italian government to transport Albanian refugees back to their homeland, as the latter were considered to be 'illegal economic migrants'. Angry refugees seized the vessel in order to prevent her from sailing from Catania to Valletta. After the intervention of the police, the ship was freed and returned to her usual service.
The ESPRESSO MALTA seen in Valletta during the summer of 1992, which marked her third season on the Reggio Calabria-Catania-Valletta line. Despite being now owned by Tirrenia Di Navigazione, just like during her first stint under the company, she maintained the livery of Adriatica Di Navigazione. This summer was also her final one under Tirrenia Di Navigazione, as she was subsequently laid-up in Palermo. Picture taken by Gordon Dalzell and published on www.shipspotting.com.
After spending two years on the Reggio Calabria-Catania-Valletta line, the ESPRESSO MALTA was withdrawn from service, and was laid-up in Palermo in late 1992. This occurred as the company decided to end the service to Malta, which they deemed unprofitable. During that time, the company decided to further assert its commitment to the services on the Tyrrhenian Sea, and was planning to put its fleet modernisation plan into action. Indeed, Tirrenia Di Navigazione would deploy several newly-built vessels between the mid 1990s and the early 2000s, including seven cruiseferries, six high speed craft (one of which was the high speed ferry SCORPIO, which was built in 1999 and is today known as the TERA JET of Sea Jets) and three Ro-Ro carriers. Having already an established fleet through the Strade Romane-class and the Sociale-class, smaller ferries such as the ESPRESSO MALTA were not expected to remain in the plans of Tirrenia Di Navigazione. As a result of this, the ship remained in Palermo and was listed for sale. A logical move would have been a return to Adriatica Di Navigazione. However, the latter experienced difficulties on the Adriatic Sea, as they were forced to withdraw their ferries serving former Yugoslavian ports due to the Yugoslav Wars. They also failed to keep a strong market share on the service between Greece and Brindisi, as the deployment of the three sister ships of the Palladio-class (the PALLADIO, the SANSOVINO and the LAURANA, which were built for Adriatica Di Navigazione between 1989 and 1992 and initially began operations in the former Yugoslavian ports) proved to be a major failure, primarily due to these ferries' slow speed and frequent engine troubles. Because of this, Adriatica Di Navigazione, which went on to be absorbed by Tirrenia Di Navigazione in 2004, did not consider bringing the ESPRESSO MALTA back under their fleet. As no other ferry company expressed interest in buying her, the ESPRESSO MALTA remained laid-up in Palermo during the entire 1993 season.
Fortunately for the ship, she finally managed to find a new owner in 1994, when it was announced that she would be joining Ventouris Ferries. The latter has been an important Greek ferry company, having had a strong presence on both the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea for more than four decades. 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 in the shipping industry 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 the Dutch company 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 the British company Townsend Thoresen (the predecessor of P&O Ferries), 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 ferry ROI BAUDOUIN of the Belgian company Regie voor Maritiem Transport (later known as Oostende Lines) in 1983. Initially renamed GEORGIOS B, this ship 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 (although the PANAGIA TINOU is also a major candidate regarding that debate). In 1984, they also began operating on the Adriatic Sea, having bought two ships belonging to the British conglomerate Sealink: 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). Both ships were successfully introduced on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line.
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, as well as the newly-acquired ATHENS EXPRESS (later renamed ATHENS in 2003). Just a year later, the Ventouris family experienced a further split, as Apostolos Ventouris went on to found the company AK Ventouris, and took over the ownership of the PANAGIA TINOU. Antonis Ventouris also operated the smaller company Ventouris Lines on the Saronic Gulf beginning in 1992. While his brothers went on to experience abrupt ends to their services during the 1990s, Georgios Ventouris and his company prevailed, operating several successful ships that went on to have legendary spells on the Adriatic Sea as well as on the Aegean Sea. The company established a solid base in Bari, becoming very popular amongst Italian travelers and hauliers. Their presence there during the 1980s was key in the port's development, and in fact several passengers preferred to call there rather than in Brindisi, which had been the main Southern Italian port that was connected with Greece. This would ultimately mark the decline of the services provided by Hellenic Mediterranean Lines and Adriatica Di Navigazione, the former owners of the ESPRESSO MALTA. Ships of Ventouris Ferries that were deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line as well as on the shorter Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line over the following years included: the GRECIA EXPRESS (bought in 1987 from the Dutch company North Sea Ferries), the legendary Ro-Pax VENUS (the ex-DANA GLORIA of DFDS Seaways and later the GEDSER/GEDSER LINK of the German company GT-Link, she was bought in 1989 and replaced the PATRA EXPRESS-which was sold in 1990-and was later renamed SIREN in 2004), the sister ships EUROPA (the ex-FALSTER of the Swedish company Rederi Ab Nordö, then operated as the ATLAS IV on the Adriatic Sea for the Greek company Libra Maritime, before being bought in 1989 by Ventouris Ferries, being renamed VEGA in 1990 before being sold for scrap in 2004) and EUROPA II (the ex-SCANDINAVIA of Rederi Ab Nordö, then operated as the ATLAS III on the Adriatic Sea for Libra Maritime, before being chartered in 1989 and then bought in 1990 by Ventouris Ferries, being renamed SATURNUS and operating until 2003, she was then the ALEXANDRA/ALEXANDRA T of Tsirikos Lines from 2005 until her sale for demolition in 2011). Another major purchase occurred in 1991, when the company deployed the iconic Ro-Pax ferry POLARIS (the sister ship of the VENUS/SIREN, and previously the DANA FUTURA of DFDS Seaways and then the SKÅNE LINK of the Swedish company Nordö-Link), which operated for 20 years and is widely considered to be the greatest ship in the history of Ventouris Ferries. All these ships played a crucial role in the continuous rise of the company, which became an established operator on the Adriatic Sea, and whose fleet continued to expand. Moreover, the company also had a successful comeback on the Aegean Sea, as they deployed the BARI EXPRESS on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line on the Cyclades in 1988. The latter's service was widely acclaimed, and she is considered to be one of the greatest ferries to have served the demanding Rafina-Cyclades service. In addition, the company also operated the small ferry YDRA (previously the historic AINOS of the Greek company Strintzis Lines, and then the NERAÏDA II of the Saronic Gulf-based company Sigma Ferries) on the Saronic Gulf from 1990 to 1992, the year during which they sold her to Ventouris Lines, for whom she operated for three years as the AGIOS NEKTARIOS.
Ahead of the 1994 season, the company had to face several challenges on the Adriatic Sea. The first one was the anticipated arrival of two new competitors in Bari. One of them was ANEK Lines, one of the most important players on the Adriatic Sea, which deployed two ships: the the KRITI (which later became the SUPER NAÏAS of Agapitos Lines, and a future fleetmate of the ESPRESSO VENEZIA as both ships would join Minoan Flying Dolphins in 1999) which was deployed on the standard Patras-Igoumenitsa-Bari line, and the KYDON (today the AQUA BLUE of Sea Jets Ferries) which served the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari-Ancona line. The other new competitor was the Greek company Marlines, which left Brindisi and deployed the acclaimed ferries COUNTESS M and DUCHESS M on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line and the VISCOUNTESS M on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line. Other competitors such as Arkadia Lines and Poseidon Lines also continued to threaten the dominance of Ventouris Ferries, with two ships each. In addition, the GRECIA EXPRESS, which was undergoing her annual refit in the port of Aegion in late 1993, was mysteriously hit by a fire which completely destroyed her and resulted in her remaining partly submerged in the port. The ship was declared a constructive total loss, and was ultimately salvaged and sold for scrap to Turkey in 1995. In order to compensate for the loss of an important ship and to respond to the growing competition, Ventouris Ferries decided to buy two new ships. These included the ESPRESSO MALTA and the larger ferry ABEL TASMAN of the Australian company TT-Line Company. The ESPRESSO MALTA did not undergo a significant refit, as her past experience on the Adriatic Sea and on lengthy services on the Tyrrhenian Sea convinced the company that her amenities did not require a significant upgrade. She was renamed PEGASUS, hence following the company's trend (which had started in 1990) of naming their ships after constellations. She acquired the Cypriot flag and was registered in Limassol. She was introduced on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line during the summer of 1994. There, she operated alongside the VENUS and the POLARIS, while the SATURNUS was on the direct service on the Patras-Bari line. The ATHENS EXPRESS was on the Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, while the shorter service on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line was covered by the VEGA and by the ABEL TASMAN, which was renamed POLLUX and became the flagship of the company thanks to her impressive size. Despite the increasing competition, Ventouris Ferries remained the leading force in Bari, with the PEGASUS greatly complementing the successful services of the SIREN and of the POLARIS.
The PEGASUS seen arriving in the port of Patras during the summer of 1994, which marked her debut season under Ventouris Ferries. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The PEGASUS seen maneuvering in the port of Patras after having arrived from Bari (with intermediate stops in Corfu and Igoumenitsa) during the 1994 season. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
After a good first season, the PEGASUS remained in the company's plans, despite being forced to decrease their services as a result of the decrease in passenger traffic between Greece and Bari. This was primarily due to the launching of the Greek company Superfast Ferries, which deployed the SUPERFAST I and the SUPERFAST II, two extremely fast Ro-Pax ferries, on the Patras-Ancona line during the 1995 season. The introduction of these two new ferries marked the start of a new era on the Adriatic Sea, during which several companies would order newly-built cruiseferries that would perform faster crossings and provide luxurious services onboard. As a result of this passengers, preferred Ancona over Bari, despite the latter's closer proximity to Greece. Ventouris Ferries therefore made significant changes in 1995, namely the deployment of the SATURNUS on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line and the sale of the POLLUX (despite her being the company's flagship) to NEL Lines, for whom she became the well-known THEOFILOS, spending the 20 seasons that followed on the Northeast Aegean Sea until her permanent lay-up in 2014. The PEGASUS remained on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line alongside the SIREN and the POLARIS, while the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line was served by the ATHENS EXPRESS and the VEGA.
Despite another satisfying season on the Adriatic Sea, the PEGASUS would unexpectedly leave the area the following year, as she was due to move to the Aegean Sea, where she would go on to spend the remainder of her career with great success and much acclaim. Indeed, in 1996, Ventouris Ferries decided to deploy her on the Western Cyclades. This was due to a sudden gap that was created in the Greek coastal service following the abrupt collapse of Ventouris Sea Lines following the 1995 season. Indeed, despite the latter having been one of the most dominant companies of the Cyclades under Evangelos Ventouris, several questionable investments and previously-hidden financial issues ultimately caused the company's downfall. Similarly, Ventouris Lines, the company of Antonis Ventouris, ceased operations in 1995 under the same circumstances, but the void left on the Saronic Gulf could be easily covered by other operators. However, in the case of the Cyclades, this proved to be more challenging. Although popular services such as the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line and the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line continued to be served by the former competitors of Ventouris Sea Lines, namely Agapitos Lines and Agapitos Express Ferries, the service on the Western Cyclades had not yet found a new operator. To that end, Ventouris Ferries entered this service with the PEGASUS. Due to her transfer from the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean Sea, the ship was reflagged to Greece and was registered in Piraeus. After a refit in Perama during which her upper passenger deck was significantly upgraded, she began service on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, hence becoming the successor of the APOLLON EXPRESS 2 of Ventouris Sea Lines (which joined Agapitos Lines as the PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI in 1996, and later became a fleetmate of the PEGASUS under Minoan Flying Dolphins, before becoming the AGIOS GEORGIOS/PANAGIA TINOU of a reformed Ventouris Sea Lines from 2004 to 2017, the year during which she was sold for scrap). The latter was serving on the Western Cyclades and also on the Dodecanese during the 1995 season, as she was on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes line. The PEGASUS therefore became the main competitor of the main protagonist of the Western Cyclades, which was the legendary MILOS EXPRESS of Lindos Lines. The latter had been operating on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line since 1988, and is still regarded as the best ferry to have ever served the area. In addition, a third ferry also began operations in the exact same service covered by the MILOS EXPRESS and the PEGASUS during the 1996 season. This was the ANEMOS of Nomicos Lines, a notable Japanese-built ferry, which later became the MYRTIDIOTISSA of ANEN Lines and is now the ALEXANDRA L of the defunct company Kefalonian Lines. Therefore, the Western Cyclades experienced a major boost in terms of services and competition, as three excellent ferries were available to passengers willing to head to these islands. With her introduction on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, the PEGASUS became the second ship of Ventouris Ferries to operate on the Cyclades, as the BARI EXPRESS was continuing her successful service on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line.
The PEGASUS seen docked in the port of Serifos during the summer of 1996, which marked her debut season on the Western Cyclades and on the Aegean Sea. This was also the first time that Ventouris Ferries was operating on the Western Cyclades since the 1985 season, just before the split between the four Ventouris brothers. Picture taken by Apollon Nomikos and published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
The PEGASUS seen arriving in Milos during the summer of 1996. This was her first summer on the Western Cyclades, where she eventually became an acclaimed ferry despite a rocky start. Her successful service there cemented her place among the best ships in the history of the Greek coastal service. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The first season of the PEGASUS on the Western Cyclades was promising. Despite the difficult competition, she managed to provide good service, and her speed of 21 knots made her a valuable asset for all the islands that she served. However, this first year also ended on a bad note. Indeed, on 26 October 1996, while heading from Piraeus to Kythnos, she ran aground in the islet of Patroklos, which is located right below Cape Sounion. As she hit a reef in the islet, her bow was severely damaged, and there were fears that her hull could have also cracked. Due to the impact caused by the collision with the reefs, one passenger tragically lost his life, while a few injuries were also reported. The passengers were evacuated through the EXPRESS DANAE of Agapitos Express Ferries, which made a prompt arrival from Poros and returned the passengers to Piraeus. The PEGASUS was eventually towed back to Piraeus during that same day, and she immediately headed for repairs. Her damaged bow was remodeled, and made the ship more resistant against strong winds and potential future collisions. After 20 days of repairs in Piraeus, she returned to service on the Western Cyclades in late 1996.
The PEGASUS seen right after having hit the reefs of the islet of Patroklos on the Saronic Gulf on 26 October 1996, which resulted in her bow being seriously damaged. Picture taken in the 'Efoplistis' magazine and published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
The PEGASUS seen in Piraeus in November 1996, while undergoing repairs following her accident in the islet of Patroklos. Her damaged bow was replaced by a new one, which was added in Piraeus prior to the ship resuming her service on the Western Cyclades. Picture taken in the 'Efoplistis' magazine and published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
The PEGASUS seen entering the port of Piraeus in late 1996, right after having resumed service after her repairs were completed. This is one of the first pictures of the ship with her new bow, which was remodeled during the repairs that she underwent following her accident in Patroklos. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The PEGASUS returned to service in late 1996, and her comeback marked the start of the most successful period of her career. Indeed, the next three seasons that followed helped establish her as one of the best ferries of the Aegean Sea, and she became a beloved ship on the Western Cyclades. Her service was widely acclaimed by passengers, and she was appreciated for her speed, her large garage and her impressive outdoor areas. In particular, her front section balcony enabled passengers to have an impressive view while sailing around the Western Cyclades. Furthermore, she had several passenger cabins, which made her very valuable when performing evening and overnight services on a long and demanding lifeline. A major key to the ship's success was her crew, which was under the command of Cpt Evangelos Antonopoulos, one of the best captains to have served in the Greek coastal service. Thanks to these impeccable seasons, the ship proved to be the first true challenger of the MILOS EXPRESS on the Western Cyclades, and she is generally considered to be the second greatest-ever ferry to operate there, after the iconic ship of Lindos Lines. The ship's success was also facilitated by the departure of the ANEMOS, which left the Western Cyclades in 1997 in order to be deployed on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Another company that also had relative success on the Western Cyclades was GA Ferries, which deployed several well-known ferries such as the DALIANA, the MILENA and the ROMILDA.
The PEGASUS seen arriving in the port of Piraeus during Good Friday in 1997. This was her second year on the Aegean Sea and on the Western Cyclades. She is seen passing by the legendary ARKADI of Cretan Ferries. Behind her (at the left side of the picture) is the iconic cruiseferry MYTILENE of NEL Lines, which was operating on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
The PEGASUS seen having left the port of Piraeus in 1997, during her second season on the Western Cyclades under Ventouris Ferries. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.limnosfm100.gr.
The PEGASUS seen as she departs the port of Piraeus during the summer of 1998. These were considered to be the golden years of the ship, as she established herself as a legendary ship on the Western Cyclades. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published on www.kaipoutheos.gr.
The PEGASUS seen on the Saronic Gulf, while making her way towards the Western Cyclades during the 1998 season. Picture published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
The PEGASUS seen arriving in the port of Piraeus, after having returned from the Western Cyclades, during the summer of 1998. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.naviearmatori.net.
The PEGASUS seen arriving in Sifnos during the feast of Panagia Chrysopigi in 1999. The latter is considered to be the patron protector of the island. The annual celebration calls for a passenger ship serving Sifnos to transport the holy icon of Panagia Chrysopigi to its eponymous monastery, located on the island's Southeastern coast. This is always a very emotional and remarkable celebration, and several well-known ships of the Western Cyclades have transported the holy icon. The PEGASUS was one of them, as she notably performed this role during her stint under Ventouris Ferries and later under Minoan Flying Dolphins. Picture taken by Antonis Lazaris and published on www.kaipoutheos.gr.
The PEGASUS seen on the Saronic Gulf, shortly after having left the port of Piraeus, during the summer of 1999. Picture taken by Apollon Nomikos, and published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
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 PEGASUS. Indeed, she continued to provide excellent service on the Western Cyclades, and, by 1998, was the only ship of Ventouris Ferries that served the Aegean Sea, as the BARI EXPRESS had been sold that year to Agapitos Express Ferries (for whom she entered service on the Cyclades as the EXPRESS HERMES). However, in late 1999, the PEGASUS unexpectedly departed the fleet of Ventouris Ferries, as she became one of the many ferries that were acquired within a very short timespan by the Greek giants Minoan Flying Dolphins, better known today as the predecessor of Hellenic Seaways. The latter was created in late 1998, when Minoan Lines agreed to establish a new ferry 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 (in this case, the PEGASUS) 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 (who actually almost joined Minoan Flying Dolphins as well, but eventually did not), NEL Lines, ANEK Lines, LANE Lines (which later became LANE Sea Lines in 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. With this move, Ventouris Ferries ceded the PEGASUS to this new company, and ended their services on the Aegean Sea. Since then, they have continued to operate solely on the Adriatic Sea, serving the Bari-Durrës line and the Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line.
Minoan Flying Dolphins 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 PEGASUS joined Hellas Ferries.
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. The PEGASUS was renamed EXPRESS DIONISOS, therefore taking the name of the Greek God Dionysos (the God of wine, festivities and theatre). She reunited with the EXPRESS HERMES (her former Ventouris Ferries fleetmate BARI EXPRESS), and she also became fleetmates with her main rival, the MILOS EXPRESS, which was renamed EXPRESS MILOS. She also became fleetmates with one of her first competitors on the Adriatic Sea, the ex-KRITI of ANEK Lines, which became the EXPRESS ARIS after having previously spent three years on the Cyclades under Agapitos Lines as the SUPER NAÏAS (from 1996 to 1999). Moreover, she was also fleetmates for a few months alongside the ex-ANEMOS of Nomicos Lines, which became the EXPRESS ANEMOS, but never operated for the company as she was sold to ANEN Lines before the 2000 season. Altogether, 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 PEGASUS seen in Piraeus in late 1999, as she undergoes her change in livery ahead of her entry to service under Hellas Ferries, one of the four divisions of Minoan Flying Dolphins. The company's logo was already added on both her funnels, while she maintained her name, which she later changed to EXPRESS DIONISOS. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
As it was anticipated, the EXPRESS DIONISOS continued to serve the Western Cyclades under her new owners, operating on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line together with the EXPRESS MILOS. Both ships remained successful there, and cemented the dominance of Minoan Flying Dolphins on the Western Cyclades. Only GA Ferries competed against them, and notably deployed, on some occasions, the ferry DIMITROULA, a former fleetmate of the EXPRESS DIONISOS back when they both operated for Tirrenia Di Navigazione. Indeed, the DIMITROULA was previously known as the VERGA, and had been acquired by GA Ferries in 1998.
The EXPRESS DIONISOS seen arriving near the Church of Panagia Chrysopigi in Sifnos in 2000, during her debut season under Minoan Flying Dolphins and the Hellas Ferries division. Just like the year before, she was transporting the holy icon of Panagia Chrysopigi to its eponymous church, amidst the celebrations in Sifnos. Picture taken by Kyriakos Smyrnaios and published on www.kaipoutheos.gr.
The EXPRESS DIONISOS seen arriving in Piraeus during the 2000 season, which was her fifth overall on the Western Cyclades, and her first one under the livery of Hellas Ferries and under her new name. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
One of the most well-known pictures of the EXPRESS DIONISOS, which shows the ferry heading towards her docking spot in Piraeus, as viewed from her stern. She was returning to the port of Piraeus after having served the Western Cyclades during the summer of 2000. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
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 (the ex-PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI of Agapitos Lines) suffered a blackout in Naxos while carrying more than 1,000 passengers. As a result of this, all ships owned by Minoan Flying Dolphins were arrested on a national scale, with many of them being laid-up until they would meet safety requirements. The EXPRESS DIONISOS 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 (the ex-NAÏAS II of Agapitos Lines) or the EXPRESS HERMES. 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 DIONISOS underwent a brief refit in Perama, during which her stern was significantly upgraded. The outdoor deck in the stern section was extended and was covered in order to become a sun deck. This therefore increased her passenger capacity and allowed for a more comfortable stay in her outdoor areas. She resumed service on the Western Cyclades together with the EXPRESS MILOS.
The EXPRESS DIONISOS spotted in Piraeus during the 2001 season, which marked her first summer of operations following the minor conversion that she underwent. Her stern was fully remodeled and saw the addition of a new sun deck. Picture taken by Bernard Dobbs and published on www.hhvferry.com.
The EXPRESS DIONISOS seen leaving Milos during the 2001 season, which was her second one under Minoan Flying Dolphins, whose reputation had now become tarnished because of the tragedy of the EXPRESS SAMINA. Picture taken by Jan Vinther Christensen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
In 2002, the 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. But this was not the only change that the company carried out. Indeed, ahead of the 2002 season, the EXPRESS DIONISOS was renamed EXPRESS PEGASUS, therefore reverting to the name that she bore during her spell under Ventouris Ferries, albeit with the prefix 'EXPRESS' which the company continued to implement on its ferries. The name change was done in order for passengers to again identify themselves with the ship, under the name that made her famous on the Western Cyclades. The company had also done a similar move the year before, with the EXPRESS ARTEMIS being once again renamed PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI (the name that she had under her previous owners, Agapitos Lines) in 2001 (although this change was primarily done due to the residents of Paros, of which Panagia Ekatontapyliani is the patron protector, being outraged over the name change when the ship joined Minoan Flying Dolphins). The newly-renamed EXPRESS PEGASUS continued to serve the Western Cyclades alongside the EXPRESS MILOS. 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 Central 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. Even though the company was the sole operator on the Western Cyclades along with GA Ferries, they also began to experience issues, especially the EXPRESS MILOS which had a few engine troubles. The EXPRESS PEGASUS continued to operate successfully and was among the few ships of the company that remained under a good overall condition. However, in late 2002 and early 2003, her stabilisers began to malfunction, and they were unfortunately never repaired. This affected her sailing patterns, especially during poor weather conditions, as she would be easily shaken by heavy waves and her maneuvering procedures in ports would become more difficult. However, despite these difficulties, she continued to provide reliable service, and was one of the few shining stars of Hellas Flying Dolphins, in contrast to many of her fleetmates that were experiencing a decline in the quality of the services that they provided.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen as she departs the port of Piraeus during the 2002 season. This was her third summer under Minoan Flying Dolphins (which had been renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins), and her first one under her new name, which she went on to keep for the remainder of her career. Picture published on www.forum.nautilia.gr.
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. The company instead decided to order one new high speed ferry, the HIGHSPEED 5 (which became the HIGHSPEED 7 in 2016, before joining Minoan Lines in 2018 as the SANTORINI PALACE) to be delivered in 2005, and two cruiseferries planned for delivery in 2005 and in 2007. More older ships were sold for scrap, such as the EXPRESS NAÏAS, the EXPRESS HERMES (as stated previously), as well as Ro-Ro carrier SEA TRAILER in 2003. The STAR TRAILER was sold to Saos Ferries in 2003, and she began service for them as the PANAGIA KRIMNIOTISSA. That same company also went on to acquire the EXPRESS MILOS during that same year, and deployed her as the NISSOS LIMNOS on the Northeast Aegean Sea before retiring her from service in 2004, after which she was sold for scrap following an acclaimed career in Greece. The departure of the EXPRESS MILOS meant that Hellas Flying Dolphins needed a second ship to operate on the Western Cyclades, alongside the EXPRESS PEGASUS. This gap was filled with the EXPRESS APOLLON (previously the APOLLON EXPRESS/APOLLON EXPRESS 1 of Ventouris Sea Lines and then the EXPRESS APOLLON of Agapitos Express Ferries, and an iconic ship of the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line), which was inserted on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line. Her service there was very inconsistent, as she experienced several technical issues which were due to the fact that the company did not maintain her accordingly (as it had been the case for most of its older ships). The EXPRESS PEGASUS performed much better, but she continued to be impacted by the damaged stabilisers which were not repaired by Hellas Flying Dolphins.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen maneuvering next to the Church of Panagia Chrysopigi in Sifnos, as part of the island's annual celebrations, shortly before the summer of 2003. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen resting in Piraeus during the 2003 season. Picture taken by Benoît Donne and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen in Piraeus during the 2003 season, during yet another summer spent on the Western Cyclades. Picture take by Matt Murtland and published on www.hhvferry.com.
Even though the EXPRESS PEGASUS performed well, the 2003 season was yet another disappointment for Hellas Flying Dolphins, whose poor reputation and lack of maintenance on its older ferries continued to adversely impact the company. Ahead of the 2004 season, the company decided to further diminish its fleet, notably selling the sister ships PANAGIA EKATONTAPYLIANI and EXPRESS PENELOPE back to their original owners, a reformed Ventouris Sea Lines and Agoudimos Lines, respectively. The sales of these two ships to prominent new competitors proved to be a major mistake, as both companies outperformed Hellas Flying Dolphins on the Rafina-Cyclades service on which both ships were deployed during the 2004 season. This happened despite both ships having previously served the company. Because of this, Hellas Flying Dolphins and in particular its Hellas Ferries division continued to experience a substantial decline on the Cyclades. Despite this, the Western Cyclades continued to feature two conventional ferries for the 2004 season. These were the EXPRESS PEGASUS and the EXPRESS ADONIS (previously the DIMITRA of GA Ferries and then the NAÏAS EXPRESS of Agapitos Lines), which replaced the EXPRESS APOLLON, as the latter moved to the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. Both ships had a relatively good season despite strong competition provided by GA Ferries.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen docked in Piraeus in April 2004, just before beginning her ninth consecutive summer season on the Western Cyclades, and her fifth in a row under the Hellas Ferries division. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen docked in the port of Ios during the summer of 2004, which ultimately proved to be the final one that she spent on the Western Cyclades. Picture published on www.efoplistis.gr.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen departing Piraeus in 2004, for yet another trip to the Western Cyclades. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen on the Western Cyclades, as she sails between Kimolos and Milos, during the 2004 season. Picture taken by Nikolaos Tselentis and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
After the 2004 season was completed, there were many questions regarding the future of Hellas Flying Dolphins, as the company continued to experience financial difficulties and saw their services being outperformed, for the most part, by GA Ferries, Ventouris Sea Lines, Agoudimos Lines, NEL Lines and especially Blue Star Ferries. However, the company did have a season to look forward to, as it was anticipating the delivery of the HIGHSPEED 5 in 2005, as well as that of the first out of the two cruiseferries that were being built in Greece, namely the NISSOS MYKONOS. They also acquired two relatively young high speed catamarans, the FLYINGCAT 5 and the FLYINGCAT 6, which were planned for entry to service on the Sporades during the summer of 2005 in order to replace the aging hydrofoils. In 2005, changes in the company's board of directors and shareholders prompted it to improve its corporate identity and strategy, with a focus on consolidated services operated by a young generation of Greek ferries. To that end, Hellas Flying Dolphins and all its divisions were rebranded under one single entity named Hellenic Seaways. The 'Highspeed', 'Flyingcat' and 'Flying Dolphin' brandnames continued to exist, while all conventional ferries were to feature the livery of the new company. Out of the ships that had been operating under the Hellas Ferries division, the ones that joined Hellenic Seaways included the EXPRESS APOLLON, the EXPRESS APHRODITE, the EXPRESS ATHINA, the EXPRESS SANTORINI, the EXPRESS HAROULA (previously operating under the Sporades Ferries division from 1999 to 2002, she was renamed EXPRESS SKIATHOS in 2005) and the EXPRESS PEGASUS. The EXPRESS POSEIDON, the EXPRESS OLYMPIA and the EXPRESS ADONIS were all removed from the company's plans, with the first two heading for scrap during the summer of 2005. The EXPRESS ADONIS remained laid-up in Piraeus and in Drapetsona until she was sold in 2006 to the Indian company Samudera Ferry Shipping & Cruise Service, for whom she sailed for four years until she was scrapped in 2010. The EXPRESS PEGASUS was reportedly the first ship that underwent the livery change in order to be repainted with the colours of Hellenic Seaways, during her annual refit in Drapetsona.
The EXPRESS PEGASUS seen in Drapetsona in 2005, while she is being repainted with the well-known black livery of Hellenic Seaways. Her funnels were repainted in red and black, and later featured the famous three dolphins that form the logo of the company. Picture taken by Dinos Lemonis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Aside from changing her livery, the EXPRESS PEGASUS also underwent a change in her area of deployment. Indeed, as the EXPRESS OLYMPIA, which was serving the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Samos line on the Northeast Aegean Sea, was sold for scrap, the EXPRESS PEGASUS was called to replace her in this service. With this move, she left the Western Cyclades after nine extremely successful years. Hellenic Seaways did not replace her, instead maintaining only one conventional ferry on the line, namely the EXPRESS APHRODITE, which was inserted on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos line during the 2005 season. The company further added the HIGHSPEED 3 to the Western Cyclades. The area also saw the arrival of the AGIOS GEORGIOS, which was deployed on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line (making her the formal successor of the EXPRESS PEGASUS), and of the newly-established company Aegean Speed Lines, which deployed the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER I on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Paros line. As for the EXPRESS PEGASUS, she moved to a demanding service on the Northeast Aegean Sea, which she was able to cover thanks to her large garage and her fair amount of passenger cabins. She was inserted on a service on which Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins had been operating with little competition, with that coming primarily from GA Ferries and NEL Lines, which had deployed the newly-built high speed ferry AEOLOS EXPRESS (which was renamed AEOLOS KENTERIS I in 2007) on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ikaria-Samos line between 2002 and 2004. She did not return to service in 2005 due to financial constraints. GA Ferries deployed two ships in Ikaria and Samos for the 2005 season, namely the DIMITROULA and the MARINA, which entered service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ikar