The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen in Piraeus in 2018, in what turned out to be her last summer operating in Greece, after having operated continuously since 1984.
This Blog post comes under unexpected circumstances, as I learned a few days ago that the hydrofoil FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII of Hellenic Seaways no longer exists. Indeed, she was scrapped in Perama in late November 2019, 35 years after having first started operations. Indeed, she began service on the Sporades in 1984, and remained there for 21 years before moving to the Saronic Gulf in 2005. She notably kept the same name throughout all of these 35 years, during which she served the Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Trikeri-Pefki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Marmaras line under the historic Ceres Flying Dolphins (which was the first company to operate hydrofoils in Greece) and then the Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Trikeri-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line under the company that acquired the latter in 1999, Minoan Flying Dolphins, which became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002. She then headed to the Saronic Gulf, on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line, when her company was rebranded as Hellenic Seaways in 2005. Despite these changes, this did not prevent the hydrofoil from operating efficiently on both the Sporades and Saronic Gulf, providing regular service alongside the numerous fleetmates that she had during her career. At the time that she was retired from service, she had been, alongside her sister ship, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII (still active and also owned by Hellenic Seaways), the oldest active high speed craft of Hellenic Seaways. Despite her becoming older as the years went by, she avoided early retirement at the age of 30 (which was previously mandatory according to the Greek Maritime Law) in order to continue to serve Hellenic Seaways and the Saronic Gulf. Unfortunately, while everything seemed to be going well, she suffered a major blow which eventually ended her career for good. Indeed, on 24 May 2019, while she was undergoing her annual refit in Perama, she was almost completely damaged by a fire which began to spread for unknown reasons across the indoor areas of the ship. By the time the fire was extinguished, the ship was severely damaged, and was declared a constructive total loss. As a result of the significant damage, she was never repaired, and was eventually scrapped in Perama six months later.
Just like all the Farewell Tribute posts that I have written on the Blog so far, this post aims to cover the entire career of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, from her arrival in Greece under Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1984 until her unexpected partial-destruction which eventually ended her operations after 35 years. I will also describe in depth the operations of hydrofoils owned by the companies which operated her. While she was in Greece for three-and-a-half decades, pictures from her early career are very rare, as very few photographers have published pictures of hydrofoils during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Therefore, I can only share the very small amount of pictures of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII that I managed to find during her first 20 years of operations. However, I hope they will manage to illustrate the ship's career alongside the detailed historical facts provided by this post.
Overall, it is a sad event for me, as the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was a ship which I saw several times since my childhood, especially in Piraeus and in Aegina, which is one of the two islands that I go to every summer in Greece. She was therefore one of the several ships that remained in the area while I was growing up. I took several beautiful pictures of her in recent years, and I also have a frame featuring a picture of her during one of her arrivals in the port of Aegina in the summer of 2015 decorating the wall of my bedroom. Despite seeing her and photographing her numerous times, I actually never had the chance to travel with her, not even for a trip from Piraeus to Aegina or vice versa. Instead, I have traveled with other hydrofoils owned by Hellenic Seaways, as well as with the FLYING DOLPHIN ATHINA of rival operator Aegean Flying Dolphins. Therefore, it is even more sad for me to see this ship being scrapped without having ever traveled onboard her.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was built in 1984 in the Poti Shipyard and Shipbuilding Plant, located in Poti in Georgia, which was, at the time, part of the Soviet Union. She had been ordered alongside her sister ship, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, by the Greek company Ceres Flying Dolphins. The latter had been established in 1975 by the Greek shipowner Georgios Livanos, who at the time was the managing director of Ceres Hellenic Shipping Enterprises, which was operating bulk carriers and tankers. Livanos sought to invest in the Greek coastal service by introducing innovative ships that would reduce the traveling time between the islands of the Aegean Sea. He decided to fulfill this goal by introducing high speed craft which would be more than three times faster than the conventional passenger ships operating in Greece at the time. He first sought to operate on the Saronic Gulf, which at the time was seeing several small passenger ships operating from Piraeus, while the first landing craft carrying vehicles had also started to appear during the late 1960s. Despite the significant number of ships, their service was deemed very slow. Therefore, Livanos brought a major revolution in the area, as well as in Greece as a whole, by deploying two newly-built hydrofoils, the FLYING DOLPHIN I and the FLYING DOLPHIN II, ahead of the summer of 1976. They were deployed on the Zea-Aegina-Agistri-Methana-Epidavros-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli-Nafplion-Tolo-Tyros-Leonidion-Kyparissi-Gerakas line, serving the Saronic Gulf, the Argolic Gulf and the Eastern Peloponnese. Their entry to service was immediately impactful, as they considerably ensured faster trips between a handful of destinations. Despite their initial success, they did encounter multiple engine failures, which became a very recurrent issue experienced by almost all hydrofoils that were deployed in Greek waters over the last four decades. Regardless of these issues, the hydrofoils quickly helped Ceres Flying Dolphins acquire a major part of the market share in the area, and they remained unmatched in terms of fast service until at least the late 1980s.
Just like the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, these hydrofoils were all built in the former Soviet Union, and were part of the famed Kometa-class. The latter was one of the many different classes of passenger hydrofoils introduced by the Soviet Union. Indeed, in the mid 1950s, the former country launched a massive investment plan in order to improve the water transit on the Black Sea, on the Crimean peninsula, Far Eastern Russia, and on rivers such as the Volga and the Don. Thanks to funding by the Soviet government, the first hydrofoil, known as the RAKETA-1 of the company Volga United Shipping Company, began service in 1957 on the Moscow-Gorky-Kazan line. She became the lead ship of the Raketa-class, which stands for the word 'Rocket'. Based on that successful entry to service, new classes such as the Volga-class, the Meteor-class and the Kometa-class were introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with more than 3000 hydrofoils being built! They entered service for several state-owned companies, such as Volga United Shipping Company, Black Sea Shipping Company (trading as Noroflot), Far Eastern Shipping Company and Belomorsko-Onega Shipping on the Black Sea, on the aforementioned rivers (in addition to the Lena, the Ob and the Yenisey in Far Eastern Russia), and provided water transit service in major cities like Moscow, Leningrad (now known as St Petersburg), Gorky (now known as Nizhny Novgorod), Kazan, Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Anapa, and even Far Eastern Russian cities like Khabarovsk. The hydrofoils were built mainly in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, but also in the shipyards of Poti (now part of Georgia) and Theodosia (now part of Ukraine). Besides local Soviet companies operating them, there was also a massive exportation of hydrofoils around the world, as several countries were interested in deploying high speed boats of their caliber in their respective seas. Major clients were Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia (now hydrofoils are mostly found in Croatia), Bulgaria, Spain, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Cuba, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Tanzania and Cape Verde.
Both hydrofoils ordered by Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1975 were part of the Kometa-class, which became the most prominent class of hydrofoils in Greece, with more than 50 different ships belonging to the latter having a stint in Greek waters at some point during their respective careers. Most of them were named after dolphins, as hydrofoils were said to resemble a lot to the latter. Ceres Flying Dolphins began the 'Flying Dolphin' brandname, which is still present to date. The impact made by the FLYING DOLPHIN I and the FLYING DOLPHIN II was so successful that the company ordered five more hydrofoils for delivery during the summer of 1976: the newly-built Kometa-class hydrofoils FLYING DOLHIN III, FLYING DOLPHIN IV, FLYING DOLPHIN V, FLYING DOLPHIN VI and FLYING DOLPHIN VII. All five of them entered the same service as the FLYING DOLPHIN I and the FLYING DOLPHIN II. Further successes experienced by all ships prompted the company to then order the Kometa-class sister ships FLYING DOLPHIN VIII and FLYING DOLPHIN IX in 1977, the FLYING DOLPHIN X in 1978 (also a newly-built hydrofoil from the Kometa-class), and then the Kometa-class hydrofoils FLYING DOLPHIN XI and FLYING DOLPHIN XII in 1979. All ships were also inserted on the Saronic Gulf, alternatively operating from Piraeus or from Zea. In 1981, the company decided to extend its services by deploying hydrofoils on the Sporades and on the Northeast Aegean Sea. For this occasion, three Kometa-class hydrofoils, the FLYING DOLPHIN XIV, the FLYING DOLPHIN XV and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVI, were ordered in Russia. When they were completed, all three ships were deployed on the Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Trikeri-Pefki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Marmaras line. As it was the case with the Saronic Gulf, the arrival of Ceres Flying Dolphins brought significant changes to the coastal service of the Sporades, and the hydrofoils were quickly acclaimed by the residents and tourists in the area.
Three years after their successful entry on the Sporades, Ceres Flying Dolphins sought to further improve their services by ordering the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII. Unlike the previous 15 ships that were built for the company between 1975 and 1981, these two ships were not part of the Kometa-class. Instead, they belonged to the upgraded Kolkhida-class, which featured larger, wider, faster and more wave-resistant hydrofoils. They lacked the stern outdoor area and the front-section windows found in Kometa-class hydrofoils, and also featured wider alleys, a luggage storage area, and two extra flooding compartments. Moreover, they had a larger passenger capacity than the Kometa-class hydrofoils. Their construction had just started the year before, in 1983, when the lead ship, the COLCHIS 1 of Black Sea Shipping Company-Noroflot, built in Georgia, began service on the Odessa-Yalta line. Her deployment fascinated Ceres Flying Dolphins, which decided to order the fourth and fifth ships of the class, which were due to be built in Georgia in order to enter service in 1984. As a result, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII became the sixteenth and seventeenth ships of the company, respectively. This order is explained by the fact that Ceres Flying Dolphins never brought a ship named FLYING DOLPHIN XIII, as the number 13 is considered unlucky for superstitious reasons in Greece. The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII entered service in the summer of 1984 on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line on the Saronic Gulf, whereas the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was introduced on the Sporades, Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Trikeri-Pefki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Marmaras line. They became the first-ever hydrofoils of the Kolkhida-class to be deployed in the Greek coastal service, as well as the second and third fastest ships in Greece at the time, after the high speed catamaran NEARCHOS of Cretan Ferries (now the GIANNIS S since being released by Hydra Speed Lines in 2019), which had arrived in 1983 as the first-ever ship of her type in Greece. Like all of their fleetmates, the two ships were registered in Piraeus.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII quickly became a core part of the company's operations on the Sporades, and was very appreciated by passengers for her speed, which at the time was the fastest in the area. In 1986, two years after her entry to service, Ceres Flying Dolphins bought another Kolkhida-class hydrofoil. This happened to be the aforementioned COLCHIS 1, the lead ship of the class, which had been built in 1983. She arrived in Greece, was renamed FLYING DOLPHIN XIX and was deployed on the Sporades, joining the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII. She became the second ship of the Kolkhida-class to enter service on the Sporades. Moreover, she was the first ship to enter service for Ceres Flying Dolphins while having previously operated in the former Soviet Union.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen arriving in the port of Skiathos during the summer of 1986, which was the third season of her career following her delivery to Ceres Flying Dolphins. This picture was taken by Nigel Freebody, to whom I would like to express my gratitude for sending it to me and for allowing me to share it on this post.
A rare picture of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII during the start of her career and under the livery of Ceres Flying Dolphins, as she is seen heading towards her docking spot in the port of Skiathos during the summer of 1986. This picture was taken by Nigel Freebody, to whom I would like to express my gratitude for sending it to me and for allowing me to share it on this post.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, then only 2 years old, seen docking in the port of Skiathos during the summer of 1986. This picture was taken by Nigel Freebody, to whom I would like to express my gratitude for sending it to me and for allowing me to share it on this post.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen leaving the port of Skiathos in 1986. This picture was taken by Nigel Freebody, to whom I would like to express my gratitude for sending it to me and for allowing me to share it on this post.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Ceres Flying Dolphins continued to be a dominant company, providing fast and reliable service on the Saronic Gulf, the Sporades and the Northeast Aegean Sea, despite some occasional mechanical troubles experienced by the hydrofoils. They also had occasional stints on the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, although such services were not as successful as the ones mentioned previously. In 1987, two twelve-year-old Kometa-class hydrofoils joined the fleet: the KOMETA 10 and the KOMETA 11 of Bulgarian company Navibulgar, which had started their careers in 1975 on the Varna-Nesebar-Sozopol line. They were renamed FLYING DOLPHIN XX and FLYING DOLPHIN XXI, respectively. The next ships to join the company were four Kometa-class hydrofoils in 1989 from Black Sea Shipping Company-Norofolot: the KOMETA 32 (built in 1977), the KOMETA 43 (built in 1980), the KOMETA 23 (built in 1974) and the KOMETA 26 (built in 1975), which were respectively renamed FLYING DOLPHIN XXII, FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII, FLYING DOLPHIN XXIV and FLYING DOLPHIN XXV. The FLYING DOLPHIN XX, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXI, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXV were deployed on the Saronic Gulf, while the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIV were deployed on the Sporades. By that time, Ceres Flying Dolphins began to experience some threats, as other operators decided to deploy hydrofoils in Greece, such as the newly-established Ilio Lines (the predecessors of Sea Jets) on the Cyclades and Sea Falcon Lines and Saronic Dolphins (a division of Ilio Lines) on the Saronic Gulf. All these companies ordered hydrofoils from the former Soviet Union and deployed them from ports like Piraeus, Zea, Lavrion and Rafina.
Despite these threats, Ceres Flying Dolphins remained the main hydrofoil operator, and eventually sought to further enhance their presence on the Saronic Gulf. In order to do this, they brought-in four new ships in 1991. The first three were another trio of second-hand Kometa-class hydrofoils. They were the last ones to join Ceres Flying Dolphins. Indeed, these were the former Black Sea Shipping Company-Norofolot hydrofoils KOMETA 27 and KOMETA 28 (both built in 1979) and the then-12-year-old KOMETA 40 (built in 1979). They were renamed FLYING DOLPHIN XXVI, FLYING DOLPHIN XXVII and FLYING DOLPHIN XXVIII, respectively, and were deployed on the Saronic Gulf, serving the same ports as the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, in addition to Tyros, Leonidion, Kyparissi, Gerakas, Monemvasia, Neapolis and Kythira. The fourth ship was, however, a completely different one. Indeed, it was the high speed catamaran FLYINGCAT 1, which had been ordered in Norway by Ceres Flying Dolphins. She was far larger and faster than the hydrofoils, and featured much more amenities compared to the latter. She was deployed in 1991 on the Floisbos-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line (while also operating from Piraeus and Zea on a few occasions), and was the new flagship of the company. Carrying on from the success generated by this introduction, combined with the parallel success of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, Ceres Flying Dolphins decided, in 1993, to order another Kolkhida-class hydrofoil from Georgia (which had become an independent country following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991). This was the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX, which began service in 1993 on the same service as the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line. She became the twenty-eighth and final former Soviet hydrofoil to join the company.
Over the 1990s, Ceres Flying Dolphins continued to provide stable service, despite some increasing competition from Sea Falcon Lines (operating Meteor-class hydrofoils), Ilio Lines/Saronic Dolphins and the newly-established Vasilopoulos Flying Dolphins (which began to operate four Kometa-class hydrofoils on the Dodecanese and on the Saronic Gulf in 1996). However, the success of the FLYINGCAT 1 further cemented the company's presence on the Saronic Gulf. In order to attempt another attack against Ilio Lines on the Cyclades, Ceres Flying Dolphins decided to buy three more hydrofoils in 1997. Unlike the other 28 hydrofoils already owned by the company, these were not from the former Soviet Union, but from Malta and Italy. Indeed, they belonged to the RHS 160F-class, which included two decks instead of one, and was also faster than the Kometa-class or the Kolkhida-class. It was, in other words, a class that combined the attributes small hydrofoils with those of catamarans like the FLYINGCAT 1. The first ship to arrive was the ALIJUMBO STROMBOLI of Italian company Ustica Lines (now known as Liberty Lines), built in 1986 in Malta, which was renamed MEGA DOLPHIN XXX and marked the start of the 'Mega Dolphins' brandname. The other two ships were her sister ships, the PEZ VOLADOR and the BARRACUDA of Spanish company Trasmediterránea, built in Italy in 1988 and 1989, respectively, which were renamed MEGA DOLPHIN XXXI and MEGA DOLPHIN XXXII. All three ships entered service in 1997 on the Cyclades, but their service was very troublesome due to the numerous engine failures they had while sailing on the Cyclades. The MEGA DOLPHIN XXX moved to the Sporades in 1998.
A year after the introduction of the 'Mega Dolphins', Ceres Flying Dolphins ordered and acquired a second newly-built high speed catamaran, the FLYING DOLPHIN 2000 from Australia, which was inserted on the Saronic Gulf alongside the FLYINGCAT 1 and the other hydrofoils operating there. During the same year, the FLYING DOLPHIN XI was sold, becoming the first ship to leave Ceres Flying Dolphins. She was sold to Israeli company Eilat Hydrofoils, was renamed LADY D, and operated on the Gulf of Aqaba until she was sold for scrap in 2010. At the end of the year, the company experienced an unexpected event which eventually forced it to shut down operations in 1999.
This was the establishment of future giants Minoan Flying Dolphins, which was founded as a subsidiary of established operator Minoan Lines. The company’s charismatic manager, Pantelis Sfinias, sought to create a monopoly on the Aegean Sea by buying almost all ships operating on the Cyclades, Crete, the Dodecanese, the Northeast Aegean Sea, the Sporades and the Saronic Gulf, with most of them being owned by traditional shipping families. In order to begin putting his new empire into action, he decided to first buy the entirety of Ceres Flying Dolphins' stakes, hence fully absorbing the latter under the new company. It got its name by combining the names of both Minoan Lines and Ceres Flying Dolphins. As a result, ahead of the 1999 season, both companies cooperated on the Cyclades through Minoan Lines' high speed ferry, the HIGHSPEED 1 (built in The Netherlands in 1996 and bought by Minoan Lines in 1997), and the 'Mega Dolphins'. After the season ended, Sfinias proceeded to the next steps of his plan, which consisted in acquiring almost all other major companies of the Aegean Sea. He did this by buying all ferries/high speed craft from Agapitos Lines, Agapitos Express Ferries (and their Ro-Ro carrier division on the Adriatic Sea called Express Sea Trailers), Nomicos Lines, Arkadia Lines, Lindos Lines, all but one from Goutos Lines, the domestic ferries of Ventouris Ferries and Agoudimos Lines, as well as the Saronic Gulf companies Lefakis Shipping, Poseidon Consortium Shipping, Maltezos Shipping and Akouriki Shipping Company. With a fleet of over 60 ships, the company became the new leading force of the Greek coastal service, with very few (but eventually strong) competitors left to challenge them.
Ahead of the 2000 season, the company divided the fleet into four different operators, based on the region where they would be operating. All ferries operating on the Cyclades, the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Dodecanese as well as the Ro-Ro carriers on the Adriatic Sea would be operated by Hellas Ferries. The ferries operating on the Saronic Gulf and on the Sporades were transferred to the subsidiaries Saronikos Ferries and Sporades Ferries, respectively. As for the high speed craft, they operated under the eponymous Minoan Flying Dolphins division. The latter consisted of the the 27 'Flying Dolphins', the three 'Mega Dolphins', the FLYINGCAT 1, the FLYING DOLPHIN 2000 which was renamed FLYINGCAT 2, the SUPERCAT ATHINA of Goutos Lines which was renamed FLYINGCAT 3, the SEA SPEED 1 of Agapitos Lines which was renamed FLYINGCAT 4, the HIGHSPEED 1 and the three newly-built high speed ferries (the HIGHSPEED 2, the HIGHSPEED 3 and the HIGHSPEED 4) delivered to the company in 2000. As a result, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, then 15 years old, was transferred to the Minoan Flying Dolphins division, just like her fleetmates. She remained on the Sporades, although her service was restricted to the Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Trikeri-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line. The FLYING DOLPHIN XX, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXI, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXV and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXVI also joined her on the Sporades, providing additional service alongside the incumbent hydrofoils.
During the summer of 2000, Minoan Flying Dolphins was the main operator on the Aegean Sea, including on the Sporades. However, the company suffered two major blows which made their position extremely weak over the following years. Indeed, during the high season, the FLYING DOLPHIN V suffered a major fire which completely destroyed her, and she was scrapped on the spot in Perama. Just a few months later, a more tragic event occurred. Indeed, the conventional ferry EXPRESS SAMINA (operating under the Hellas Ferries division) sank in Paros on 26 September 2000, resulting in the loss of 81 people. The entire country of Greece was shocked by the events. Just two days later, the ferry EXPRESS ARTEMIS (later the AGIOS GEORGIOS/PANAGIA TINOU of Ventouris Sea Lines, which was scrapped in 2017) suffered a blackout in Naxos, while carrying more than 1000 passengers. As a result, all ships were arrested on a national scale, with many of them being laid-up until they would meet safety requirements. The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was cleared to sail without any issues, but other fleetmates were forced to end their services on a permanent basis. Her company was seriously hit by all these events, and the final straw came when Pantelis Sfinias committed suicide by jumping from the rooftop of the company’s office building in Piraeus. Despite all the chaos, the company continued to be active in 2001. However, by 2002, when the company was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins, their services began to decrease. The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII and the other active high speed craft were transferred to the newly-formed Hellas Flying Dolphins division. But during this period, the hydrofoils began to experience a decline which still lasts to date. Passengers considered them to be too old, too unreliable and with many mechanical troubles. The successful introduction of high speed ferries and of younger cruiseferries made the hydrofoils look outdated. Furthermore, even on short-distance services, the conventional ferries were larger (and hence had a greater capacity) and more efficient in terms of speed, rarely suffering engine failures. As a result of this, the company slowly began to withdraw hydrofoil after hydrofoil.
In 2002, the MEGA DOLPHIN XXX, the MEGA DOLPHIN XXXI and the MEGA DOLPHIN XXXII, despite all of them being less than 16 years old, were removed due to their continued troubled services on the Cyclades and on the Sporades, and remained abandoned in Perama until they were sold for scrap. The latter two were demolished in 2005, while the former was scrapped two years later. The FLYING DOLPHIN IX was sold for scrap in 2003, while the FLYING DOLPHIN VIII was also withdrawn from service and was laid-up in Perama until she was also scrapped in 2006. The following year, the company dramatically reduced its hydrofoil service. As they had reached or were about to reach the age of 30, which would indicate a forced retirement according to the Greek Maritime Law, the FLYING DOLPHIN I, the FLYING DOLPHIN II, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIV (which had grounded off and partially sank in Trikeri in 2003, and was then refloated) and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXV were all sold for demolition, while the FLYING DOLPHIN VI was also retired (she was scrapped two years later in Perama). Despite all these changes, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was spared from any service withdrawal, as she and her Kolkhida-class sister ships were still young and more reliable than their older Kometa-class fleetmates.
The only picture of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII that I managed to find under-or almost under-the livery of Hellas Flying Dolphins. It comes from a poster depicting the emergency safety instructions onboard. The white and blue livery of the ship was present on all the high speed craft of the company, except for the 'Highspeeds' and the 'Flyingcats' beginning in 2003, as they began to carry a red livery of telephone services company Vodafone as part of a partnership formed with the latter. Here, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII is seen switching from Hellas Flying Dolphins to Hellenic Seaways, in 2005. Picture published on www.albumphotosvoyages.fr.
In 2005, Hellas Flying Dolphins underwent another strategic rebuilding, whereupon the new company Hellenic Seaways was formed. All ships from all former divisions were now operating under the same company name. By that time, the company had sold several old ferries for scrap or to other operators, while also deploying the newly-built cruiseferry NISSOS MYKONOS and the brand new high speed ferry HIGHSPEED 5 (now the SANTORINI PALACE of Minoan Lines) for the summer of 2005. Two other ships were also due to make their debuts for Hellenic Seaways: the high speed catamarans FLYINGCAT 5 and FLYINGCAT 6, which had been acquired from German company Weiße Flotte in late 2004. They were deployed on the Sporades, on the Agios Konstantinos-Volos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line, replacing six hydrofoils at once! Among them was the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, which was deployed on the Saronic Gulf for the first time in her career, after having spent 21 years on the Sporades. She was deployed on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line, on which the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII was also operating. As Hellenic Seaways did not prioritise the services of the hydrofoils, many were withdrawn from service. The FLYING DOLPHIN III remained laid-up in Perama until she was scrapped in 2009 at the age of 33. The FLYING DOLPHIN VII was laid-up until she was sold in 2007 to Greek-Albanian company Finikas Lines, and still operates for them today as the KRISTI on the Corfu-Sarandë line on the Ionian Sea. The FLYING DOLPHIN XII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVI (now the ILIDA DOLPHIN of Corfu-based Joy Cruises), the FLYING DOLPHIN XX and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXII joined newly-established company Aegean Flying Dolphins, which deployed them on the Saronic Gulf and on the Dodecanese in 2006. The FLYING DOLPHIN XIV was sold to Paxos Flying Dolphins in 2005, and was renamed PAXOS FLYING DOLPHIN, operating on the Corfu-Paxoi line on the Ionian Sea until 2008, when she also joined Aegean Flying Dolphins as the FLYING DOLPHIN VENUS I. The FLYING DOLPHIN XXI was initially due to operate for Hellenic Seaways, but this eventually did not happen and she remained laid-up in Perama until she was sold for scrap in 2010. The FLYING DOLPHIN XXVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXVIII were scrapped in 2005 and in 2006, respectively. The FLYING DOLPHIN XXVI (which had made an initial comeback to the Saronic Gulf in 2003) was sold in 2005 for service in Cape Verde, under CV Interilhas, before being scrapped in 2010 as the GOLFINHO I. With these changes, Hellenic Seaways had just eight hydrofoils at the start of the 2005 season: the FLYING DOLPHIN IV, the FLYING DOLPHIN X, the FLYING DOLPHIN XV, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX. The FLYING DOLPHIN XIX had already moved to the Saronic Gulf in 2004. Therefore, all hydrofoils were operating on the latter, except for the FLYING DOLPHIN X and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII which were deployed on the Sporades.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen leaving Piraeus in 2006, during her second season under Hellenic Seaways. She is also seen featuring the latter's initial livery, which consisted of a white hull with black in the foil section and on the bow, and the top of the ship and the bridge being painted in red. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII having arrived in the port of Piraeus during the summer of 2008, after having returned from Aegina. Picture taken by Daniel Ferro and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen leaving Piraeus during the evening, in order to head towards Aegina. She is seen following her long-time fleetmate and sister ship, the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX. Picture taken in 2011 by Evangelos Patsis and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
As the years went by, Hellenic Seaways maintained a strong presence on the Saronic Gulf, despite facing competition from Aegean Flying Dolphins, to whom they had sold four hydrofoils back in 2006. However, from 2008 to 2011, a hydrofoil had to be retired each year due to her reaching the age limit of 30. As a result, the FLYING DOLPHIN X (built in 1978) was retired from service in 2008 and has been laid-up ever since. The FLYING DOLPHIN IV (built in 1976) was retired in 2009, having surpassed the age limit as she was 33 years old. She was subsequently sold to Finikas Lines, was renamed FLYING DOLPHIN HARIKLIA, and was reunited with the KRISTI (her former fleetmate, the FLYING DOLPHIN VII) on the Corfu-Sarandë line on the Ionian Sea, although she has been laid-up since 2017. The FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII (built in 1980) was retired in 2010 and has since remained laid-up in Perama. Her departure meant that the Sporades would no longer have hydrofoils operated by Hellenic Seaways, but this issue was temporarily solved when the FLYING DOLPHIN XV was moved to the area. However, as the latter was built in 1981, she was retired in late 2011, and was immediately sold to Greek-Albanian company Ionian Cruises, being renamed SANTA and being also deployed on the Corfu-Sarandë line. Therefore, ahead of the 2012 season, there were only four hydrofoils that were still active for Hellenic Seaways, and all of them on the Saronic Gulf. These were the four Kolkhida-class hydrofoils: the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX. Their stint together did not last long, as in June 2012 the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX ran aground between Aegina and Agistri, in the small islet of Metopi. She was declared a constructive total loss and was sent for lay-up in Perama. As she was due to be retired in 2013, she was not repaired and was withdrawn from the plans of Hellenic Seaways. As a result, the remaining three hydrofoils continued to operate alone for the following years. Therefore, Hellenic Seaways went from 30 hydrofoils in 2000 (back when they were known as Minoan Flying Dolphins) to just three in just 12 years. With hydrofoil construction in Russia, Georgia and Ukraine having stopped since the mid 1990s, it did not appear like the company would be counting on this type of ships for long.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII were due to turn 30 in 2014, which would have meant that they would be retired at the end of that year. However, Hellenic Seaways was granted a one-year extension for both hydrofoils, as they were deemed seaworthy and had contributed to several successful years on the Saronic Gulf. Then, even though their service was due to end in 2015, the hydrofoils were again granted an indefinite extension, allowing them to continue their operations on the Saronic Gulf. Ahead of the 2015 season, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII underwent a small renovation in Perama, whereupon her indoor areas were refurbished, including the indoor lighting system.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen docking in Piraeus in 2015, in one of my first pictures of the ship since my computer crash in late 2014. Beginning in 2013, the hydrofoils were painted in lawn green following the new partnership that began between Hellenic Seaways and the Greek telephone services company Cosmote, which replaced Vodafone. All high speed craft of the company were thus fitted with a new Cosmote livery, as the company's logo and colours at the time were lawn green. The hydrofoils also received a sponsor for the first time, after having been excluded from the partnership that Hellenic Seaways had with Vodafone.
One of my all-time favourite pictures: the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen departing Aegina during the evening, in the middle of the summer of 2015. Her interior area was illuminated by beautiful shades of purple lights, which she acquired during her refit in 2015. She was seen leaving the port of the Saronic Gulf island in order to head towards Piraeus.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2016. That year, after Cosmote changed its logo, all Hellenic Seaways high speed craft (the 'Highspeeds', the 'Flyingcats' and the 'Flying Dolphins') replaced their all-green liveries with a tri-colour one featuring different shades of green and blue, with the middle section of the hull being left in white and featuring Cosmote's updated logo.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII having exited the port of Piraeus and heading towards Aegina during the summer of 2016.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen docked in Aegina during the summer of 2016.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen leaving Piraeus in the morning, during the summer of 2017.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen on the Saronic Gulf, heading from Aegina to Piraeus, in 2017.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII docked in Piraeus in 2017.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII seen leaving the port of Aegina during the evening, in order to head towards Piraeus, during the summer of 2017.
The FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII in Piraeus during the summer of 2018, which unexpectedly turned out to be her last-ever summer of service.
My last-ever picture featuring the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, as she is docked while her long-time fleetmate and sister ship, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX, is departing the port of Piraeus in 2018. The latter joined Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1993, and moved alongside the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII to Minoan Flying Dolphins in 1999, and remained under them when they became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002 and Hellenic Seaways in 2005. She is currently the youngest hydrofoil in Greece.
Everything seemed to go fine for the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII. She was able to operate for an indefinite period as the age limit for hydrofoils was removed. She was also the least troublesome hydrofoil of Hellenic Seaways in terms of engine failures and delays, and continued to be appreciated on the Saronic Gulf. While Hellenic Seaways was acquired by Attica Group (which manages Blue Star Ferries and Superfast Ferries), the latter planned to continue the service provided by the hydrofoils on the Saronic Gulf. However, her 2019 season, and eventually her career, ended abruptly on 24 May 2019, while she was undergoing her annual refit in Perama in order to complete the final stages of her preparation ahead of the summer. A fire began to spread for unknown reasons across the indoor areas of the ship. It was extinguished and no casualties nor injuries were reported. Nevertheless, the ship was almost completely destroyed, and was immediately declared a constructive total loss, just like her former fleetmate, the FLYING DOLPHIN V, following her own fire incident 19 years earlier. As a result of the significant damage, she was never repaired, and missed the entire 2019 summer season. Her service was covered by the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and by the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX, while the FLYINGCAT 3 provided additional service on the Saronic Gulf, alongside the FLYINGCAT 4 and the FLYINGCAT 6 which had been the 'Flyingcats' that were initially supposed to operate alone on the Saronic Gulf. For next year, Hellenic Seaways decided to reactivate a former acquaintance. Indeed, the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX, which had been withdrawn permanently since her accident in 2012, had still not been demolished despite having also been declared a constructive total loss. She is currently undergoing major repairs in Perama in order to return to service on the Saronic Gulf for the 2020 summer season. She will hence be reactivated for the first time in almost eight years.
After a clean-up performed by the Greek company Antipollution ANE was completed in November 2019, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was scrapped on the spot in Perama, in the Hellenic Seaways Repair Zone, where the company's high speed craft usually dock during their refits, or remain under lay-up. This therefore ended the ship's career after 35 years, 21 of which were spent on the Sporades, while the remaining 14 were spent on the Saronic Gulf. Now, only the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX, and soon the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX are the remaining hydrofoils of Hellenic Seaways which will remind the Greek coastal service about the career of their lost sister ship. Her abrupt career-ending fire continues to reflect on the considerable decline of the hydrofoils in Greece, and especially those of the glorious Ceres Flying Dolphins, which owned 31 of them at the peak of their existence back in 1998. Due to their old age and inferiorities compared to catamarans and high speed ferries, they have been mostly phased out of the Aegean Sea. Despite this, Russian shipyards have now started to build larger and faster hydrofoils once again, notably completing the first ships of the new Kometa 120M-class in 2018. Perhaps Hellenic Seaways could have a look at these ships in order to continue to serve the Saronic Gulf with high speed craft in the long term. Hopefully this will be a way for them to honour the legacy of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, which was a strong presence on the Sporades and on the Saronic Gulf for three-and-a-half decades. Despite this abrupt end, FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII, I would like to thank you for your contribution to the Greek coastal service, as well as for being present in Aegina and Piraeus throughout the entirety of my childhood and the first years of my adulthood. You will be deeply missed.