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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas


The MYTILENE seen docked in the port of Piraeus during the summer of 2013, which proved to be her penultimate active season in the Greek coastal service, as she would eventually remain laid-up for 7 years following an engine failure and her company's demise in 2015.

Three days ago, yet another legendary veteran ferry of the Greek coastal service saw her long and illustrious career come to an end. Indeed, the iconic MYTILENE of NEL Lines arrived in the Turkish coastal city of Aliağa in order to be scrapped. This comes after she had left the anchorage in Elefsina in which she had remained languishing since 2016, waiting for a miracle to happen which would see her return to service. However, even the more optimistic observers unavoidably had to accept that a ship which had failed to perform a single trip since 2015 after experiencing a major failure in Samos, and whose company had no hopes for financial salvation following years of turmoil, could eventually be reactivated under a volatile Greek ferry market. Ultimately, on 24 May 2022, the MYTILENE, having been renamed LENE and sailing under the Togolese flag, left Greece for the last time, sailing under tow to Aliağa just a few days after her longtime fleetmate, the THEOFILOS, had done so. Both ships had ceased to operate just a few months before NEL Lines ceased operations altogether, and they were unable to escape the fate that awaits most ships that spend several years under lay-up. The MYTILENE thus completed a career that lasted almost five decades, as she headed for scrap 49 years after she was built, with 32 of them spent in Greece, and out of which two were spent for her conversion following her acquisition by NEL Lines in 1990, and the final seven were under lay-up, first in Samos and then in Elefsina. However, the 23 years during which she operated were enough to establish her as one of the best ferries to have ever operated in Greece, and she is widely regarded as the best ship that ever operated for the once glorious NEL Lines, as well as one of the best ships to have operated on the Northeast Aegean Sea (which is where she spent her entire career under NEL Lines). More specifically, her career is associated with her hugely successful spell on her company's flagship service, namely the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line (with several extensions to Limnos and Thessaloniki), where she operated uninterruptedly for 20 years. Known as 'The Queen of the Northeast Aegean Sea', the ship always stood out for her excellent service, her reliable operations and great speed (especially when she started her career in Greece during the 1990s), and she continued to remain in a very good condition even as she became older and NEL Lines began its decline during the late 2000s. Even as the company began to experience its financial problems, the ship continued to be highly regarded by passengers, and she had a successful stint on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line in her final years of operations before a major engine failure in early 2015 saw her withdrawn, and, ultimately, laid-up until a few days ago. Had she never had that engine failure, or had it occurred under an owner who had the funds to repair her, perhaps she could have still continued her operations, at least for a few more years.

The MYTILENE initially operated in Japan (which is also the country where she was built), starting her career in 1973 as the VEGA of the the Japanese company Higashi Nihon Ferry. Together with her sister ship, the VIRGO (which was built in 1974 and then went on to become the legendary RODANTHI of the now-defunct company GA Ferries), she operated on the Sendai-Tomakomai line, hence linking the island of Honshu with that of Hokkaido through the North Pacific Ocean and the Tsugaru Strait. She performed her service there with great success, and remained there for 16 years, after she was replaced by the ferry VARUNA (which is now the BLUE HORIZON of Blue Star Ferries). She was subsequently bought in 1990 by NEL Lines, which was seeking to improve its services on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line and to replace one of its oldest ships, namely the great HOMERUS. She therefore became one of the many former Japanese ferries that went on to have a second career in Greece, while also being the first one to be bought by NEL Lines. Her conversion in order to adapt to the standards of the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line would prove to be lengthy and challenging, and she ultimately entered service two years later after being remodeled into a modern cruiseferry in Perama. Her introduction was a major success, and she became the new flagship of NEL Lines. She formed a spectacular tandem with the iconic SAPPHO, which is the first ship that was ever bought by NEL Lines, back in 1973. Operating successfully on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line (along with extensions to Limnos and Thessaloniki), the MYTILENE was a major factor behind the success of NEL Lines during the 1990s, and she was a reference point for all passengers traveling on the Northeast Aegean Sea. She was joined by the larger THEOFILOS in 1995, and the two ships further enhanced the great services of NEL Lines for many years. However, despite their success, several poor decisions taken by the company, including the failed services of their newly-built high speed ferries, the poor maintenance undertaken on some of its ships, failed acquisitions and sales of various vessels, as well as disappointing results from their expansion plans on the Cyclades, saw them lose their momentum from the mid 2000s onwards. Furthermore, the increasing competition from Hellenic Seaways and later ANEK Lines on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line stagnated the company's development and made them vulnerable on their own flagship service. Despite a desperate attempt to enhance their services across the Aegean Sea and also on the Adriatic Sea in 2010 and in 2011 (by buying and chartering different ships of all kinds), the financial issues, fueled by the Greek financial crisis and poor management decisions, as well as increasing competition from the aforementioned companies and Blue Star Ferries, eventually damaged the company. Despite the MYTILENE being successfully deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line in 2013, soon all the ships of the company began to experience technical troubles and had to be withdrawn one by one. Those assigned on subsidised lifelines were eventually removed by the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy from late 2014 onwards, and, without sufficient revenue, the last ships operating were arrested by their unpaid crews. The MYTILENE eventually ended her services in 2015 after suffering an engine failure in Samos. She remained there for an entire year, with her crew unpaid and abandoned by its employers, and their struggle was well-documented across the Greek media. She was finally towed in 2016 to Elefsina, where she remained until a few days ago, when she headed for demolition, thus following the same fate as her sister ship, which had gone to the same scrapyard ten years prior, back in 2012.

Despite her tumultuous and undeserving end and her long lay-up, the MYTILENE remained a beloved ferry of the Greek coastal service, and she was a favourite of the passengers traveling to Chios and Lesbos. She played a pivotal role in ensuring the regular connection of these two large islands of the Northeast Aegean Sea with Piraeus, and this was largely thanks to her impressive speed and her excellent amenities onboard. These included her large amount of passenger cabins, her impeccable indoor lounge areas and onboard restaurants, and she also featured some nice exterior deck areas, with the most notable ones being the font-side balconies located above her bow. She was also the first ship of the Northeast Aegean Sea to feature escalators, a disco bar and passenger cabins located above the garage decks. Even after losing her status as the flagship of NEL Lines following the arrival of the THEOFILOS in 1995, she remained the favourite ship of the company, and she actually went on to have a more consistent and distinguished career than the latter. Indeed, while the THEOFILOS saw the quality of her services declining from the mid 2000s due to poor maintenance and one major accident in 2008, the MYTILENE remained consistent and well-maintained. Furthermore, she continued to operate far batter than the three high speed ferries that were introduced by NEL Lines from 2000 to 2001, namely the AEOLOS KENTERIS, the AEOLOS EXPRESS and the AEOLOS EXPRESS II (which were respectively renamed AEOLOS KENTERIS I and AEOLOS KENTERIS II in 2007). Furthermore, during the calamitous years of the company in the early 2010s, she was one of the few ships that continued to operate efficiently for the most part, despite her being one of the oldest ships of NEL Lines. Only her engine failure in Samos stopped her from operating, even though I believe that she would have nonetheless been arrested by her crew later on, as it happened with her remaining active fleetmates.

This is yet another Ship Farewell Tribute post dedicated to a ship covered in this website, whose entire history will be explained and analysed in depth. She is notably another ship operated by NEL Lines for which I am writing such post, following that of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS in 2019 and that of the IONIAN SKY in 2020. Another thing that I must mention is that this post only focuses on the MYTILENE, and not on the THEOFILOS which headed for demolition a few weeks ago. Indeed, I had taken a picture of that ship back when she was still operating in 2012, but I never published it as it is one of the many pictures that I lost following my computer crash in 2014. That was not the case for the MYTILENE, as I had luckily posted two pictures that I had taken of her upon seeing her in Piraeus in the summer of 2013 and in the summer of 2014 on Marine Traffic. These are my only two pictures of the legendary ferry, and I am happy that I managed to keep them. I do remember the ship during my childhood, seeing her in Piraeus under her original white-painted hull livery and later on when it was changed to dark blue. Unfortunately, as I have never been to the Northeast Aegean Sea, I did not have the chance to travel with her, therefore my only interactions with her consisted of seeing her docked in the E2 gate in Piraeus, and then ocasionally seeing her languished in Elefsina when I would be driving in the coastal road passing by the town (although I never had the chance to take a picture of her during that time). Nevertheless, I am happy to have memories of the ship, whose legacy will live on forever, and especially in the two islands that she served so loyally for more than two decades.

The MYTILENE was built in Japan in 1973, having been one of two sister ships ordered by the Japanese company Highashi Nihon Ferry (which stands for 'Eastern Japan Ferry' in Japanese) in 1972 as part of their plans to improve the ferry connection of the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The two ships were built in the Naikai Zosen Setoda Shipbuilding Yard in Setoda in the Hiroshima Prefecture, as the VEGA and the VIRGO, respectively. Higashi Nihon Ferry was a company established in 1965, and was dedicated to the connection of the aforementioned islands via the Tsugaru Strait, initially through the Ōma-Hakodate line, followed by the Aomori-Hakodate line, the Aomori-Muroran line and the Minmaya-Fukushima Town line in the 1960s. The successful consolidation of all these services on the Tsugaru Strait quickly made the company the largest ferry operator in Japan at the time. With the success of these services, the company quickly expanded to other ports in the area, and launched the Ōma-Muroran line, the Noeji-Hakodate line and the Ōma-Toi line in 1971. These seven services were collectively referred to as the 'Rainbow Line', which was a reference to the seven rainbow colours and the livery of the company's ships, which featured red, yellow and orange stripes similar to the design of a rainbow across their hulls. In addition to its fame in Japan, the company also became known to Greek ferry enthusiasts, as many ships operated by them were subsequently acquired by Greek ferry companies in the 1990s and in the 2000s. Besides the VEGA which later became the MYTILENE of NEL Lines and the VIRGO which became the RODANTHI of GA Ferries, other ferries included the VENUS (built in 1975) which became the iconic KEFALONIA of Strintzis Lines/Blue Star Ferries/Strintzis Ferries and is currently owned by Levante Ferries; the first VARUNA (built in 1975 and acquired by Higashi Nihon Ferry in 1982) which became the legendary LATO of ANEK Lines, operating for them from 1989 to 2016; the sister ships VISVA and VENA (built in 1987), which joined Zante Ferries in 2007 and became the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS and the ODYSSEAS ELYTIS, respectively (with the former still operating for the company while the latter never entered service for them and remained laid-up in Zakynthos for five years before being sold to the Indonesian company PT Munic Line in 2013); the second VARUNA (also built in 1987) which became the SUPERFERRY HELLAS of Strintzis Lines and has been known as the BLUE HORIZON of Blue Star Ferries since 2000; the sister ships HERMES (built in 1990) and HERCULES (built in 1992), which joined ANEK Lines in 1998 and in 1999 as the SOPHOCLES V and the LEFKA ORI, respectively, and later became known as the KYDON (from 2015 to 2017) and the BLUE GALAXY of Blue Star Ferries since 2015, respectively; and the Ro-Ro carrier LIBERTY BELL (built in 1994) which was bought in 2007 by Saos Ferries and began service in 2018 as the SAONISOS. In addition, Higashi Nihon Ferry also operated a sister company named Higashi Nihonkai Ferry, which notably owned the NEW HIYAMA, which has been operating as the KERKYRA EXPRESS of Kerkyra Lines since 2015.

As the aforementioned 'Rainbow Line' cemented the status of the company as one of the best in Japan, the company sought to further improve the connection of Hokkaido with the main island of Honshu, and thus planned to introduce new service on the Sendai-Tomakomai line, after seeing success and the potential of the port of Tomakomai, which is the largest city of the Iburi Subprefecture, which would be linked with Sendai, which is the largest city of the Tohōku region and of the Miyagi Prefecture. At the time the company ordered the VEGA and the VIRGO, newly-built ferries had just started to operate on the longer Nagoya-Sendai-Tomokomai line, including two sister ships of the company Taiheiyō Enkai Ferry, the ARKAS and the ALBIREO, built in 1972 and 1973, respectively, and later the famous cruiseferries IONIAN GALAXY and IONIAN ISLAND of Strintzis Lines, respectively. To that end, Highashi Nihon Ferry joined the area with the completion of the construction of the VEGA in December 1973, followed by that of the VIRGO in April 1974. The two ships were named after the Vega star (part of the Lyra constellation) and the the Virgo constellation, respectively, marking the start of the company's trend of naming their ships after stars and constellations (a similar pattern used by the Greek company Ventouris Ferries, amongst others). They were both registered in Tomakomai and flew the Japanese flag. They began service on the Sendai-Tomakomai line under the Shin Higashi Nihon Ferry division, and their service was known as the 'Star Line', as opposed to the 'Rainbow Line' covering the shorter services on the Tsugaru Strait.

A view of the VEGA shortly after she began her career under Shin Highashi Nihon Ferry in 1973. She notably carried the 'Star Line' livery, which consisted of a red and a yellow line forming a 'V' shape across her accommodation superstructure (in reference to the first letter of her name), with a black star painted in the middle. Picture found from a brochure of Higashi Nihon Ferry and published on

The introduction of the VEGA and of the VIRGO was very successful. Both vessels provided excellent amenities onboard and were praised for their speed, which enabled them to perform the service in just 17 hours, which was considered revolutionary at the time. Moreover, they featured several passenger cabins and spacious indoor lounge areas, and had large garages that could feature as many as 75 lorries. The VEGA had a length overall of 136.70 metres, a beam of 22.41 metres and a draft of 5.56 metres. She was equipped with 2 Nippon Kokan-Pielstick 16PC2–5V–400 main engines with 14,121 kW of power, which enabled her to reach a conventional speed of 21.50 knots. During her spell in Japan, she could carry 847 passengers in 283 cabins, and 260 cars. Overall, her technical characteristics, which were exactly the same as those of her sister ship, made her a valuable ship for a service which continued to experience a rise in passenger demand. To that end, the competitors of Higashi Nihon Ferry, namely Taiheiyō Enkai Ferry, added two more newly-built ferries to supplement the services of the ARKAS and of the ALBIREO on the Nagoya-Sendai-Tomakomai line. Indeed, they deployed the ISHIKARI and the DAISETSU in 1974 and in 1975, respectively. The former would later become the famous EROTOKRITOS of Minoan Lines and Maritime Way and then the EROTOKRITOS T of Endeavor Lines, while the latter would go on to join Higashi Nihon Ferry in 1982 as the VARUNA on the Ōarai-Muroran line before being sold in 1987 to ANEK Lines, for whom she became the LATO. Despite operating against four ships, the ferries of Higashi Nihon Ferry continued to operate for the rest of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s with great success. By 1977, the Shin Higashi Nihon Ferry division was discontinued and the two ships sailed under the core operations of Higashi Nihon Ferry.

Another advertisement brochure depicting the various sections and decks of the VEGA, including pictures of her indoor areas and of her bridge, galley, foremast, life-rafts and bow thrusters. Picture published on

The VEGA seen on the Tsugaru Strait in 1976, at the start of her long career. Picture taken by Ken Murayama and published on

Another aerial view of the VEGA in an advertisement brochure of Higashi Nihon Ferry, as she is seen sailing along the Tsugaru Strait. Picture published on

A view of the sister ship of the VEGA, namely the VIRGO, which also went on to have a great career in Greece as the RODANTHI of GA Ferries. She was built in 1974 in Japan, and, together with the VEGA, operated for Higashi Nihon Ferry under the Shin Higashi Nihon Ferry division on the Sendai-Tomakomai line. The division ceased to exist in 1977, when the two ships operated under the standard services of Higashi Nihon Ferry. The VIRGO underwent a conversion in 1984, during which her aft section was upgraded with more indoor areas and outdoor decks, while her garage was refitted in order to accommodate more vehicles, and her aft-section starboard side ramp was removed. She was laid-up in 1988 and was sold the following to the Greek company GA Ferries in 1989. She was converted in Perama for two years and was introduced as the modern cruiseferry RODANTHI on the Piraeus-Paros-Santorini-Heraklion-Karpathos-Rhodes line in 1991. Her entry to service on the Aegean Sea was a massive success, and she was praised for being one of the most luxurious and comfortable ferries at the time. In 1993 she moved to the Adriatic Sea, being deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona line. Despite her potential, she was unable to hold her own against competitors in the region, and she left the service following the 1994 season. She spent the first part of the summer of 1995 under charter to the Tunisian company Tunisia Ferries (also known as Compagnie Tunisienne de Navgiation) on the Genoa-Marseille-Tunis line, before returning to the Aegean Sea for GA Ferries and being deployed on the Piraeus-Astypalaia-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Nisyros-Tilos-Symi-Rhodes line on the Dodecanese. In 1996 she served the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Santorini line with much success, while in 1997 she was inserted on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Astypalaia-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Nisyros-Tilos-Symi-Rhodes line. She would remain in this service for the next decade, and she helped establish her company as one of the major operators on the Dodecanese until the arrival of Blue Star Ferries in 2004. In 2005 the ship served the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Nisyros-Tilos-Symi-Rhodes line. In 2008 she collided with the AEOLOS KENTERIS II of NEL Lines (the future owners of the VEGA) in Piraeus, but she was repaired and resumed service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line for the summer season. In 2009 she operated on the Piraeus-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Sikinos-Folegandros-Santorini-Anafi line, and was one of the last ships of the company that was still operating when GA Ferries ceased operations after the 2009 season. She remained laid-up in Piraeus for two years, after which she moved to Elefsina in 2011, before being sold for scrap to Turkey in 2012. Picture published on

As the 1980s progressed, the VEGA and the VIRGO continued to provide very good service and to contribute to healthy economic results for the company. Nevertheless, the demand of passenger and vehicle service on the Sendai-Tomakomai line continued to grow, and soon the two ferries did not have the required capacity to satisfy the increasing traffic numbers. To that end, the VIRGO and the VEGA underwent a refit in 1984, during which their passenger capacity more than doubled, with the addition of several new passenger areas along their aft section. The ships continued to operate on the Sendai-Tomakomai line along with the ferries of Taiheiyō Enkai Ferry, which had been renamed Taiheiyō Ferry in 1982.

The VEGA seen in Sendai during the late 1980s, now carrying the regular livery of Higashi Nihon Ferry (the three yellow, orange and red stripes forming an uptick shape along the ship's upgraded accommodation superstructure, with the company's dolphin logo located underneath her funnels). Picture found on the 'Efoplistis' magazine and published on

By 1988, the services provided by the two sister ships proved to be insufficient in the midst of soaring passenger demand. As a result, the need to deploy larger cruiseferries was a necessity for both companies serving the ports of Sendai and Tomakomai. Taiheiyō Ferry had already planned to upgrade its operations on the Nagoya-Sendai-Tomakomai line by 1986, having ordered two larger sister ships with massive garages and more passenger cabins. The first ship was the KISO, which was built in 1987 and was introduced on the Nagoya-Sendai-Tomakomai line and replaced the ARKAS, which was sold to Strintzis Lines and was renamed IONIAN GALAXY. The KISO would also go on to have a career in Greece, as she is the current NISSOS RODOS of Hellenic Seaways, which acquired her in 2005. The second ship, the KITAKAMI, eventually entered service in 1989 and replaced the ALBIREO, which was also sold to Strintzis Lines and became the legendary IONIAN ISLAND. Having seen the introduction of the KISO and awaiting the arrival of the KITAKAMI, Higashi Nihon Ferry decided to bring a brand new large vessel of their own fleet on the Sendai-Tomakomai line. Indeed, in 1989, the second VARUNA (built in 1987 and today the BLUE HORIZON of Blue Star Ferries), which had spent her first two seasons on the Ōarai-Muroran, headed to the Sendai-Tomakomai line. Her previous service was taken over by her newly-built sister ship, the VICTORY (later the VICTORY under the Italian company Grimaldi Lines and then the CARIBBEAN FANTASY of American Cruise Ferries-the predecessors of Ferries Del Caribe-until she suffered a major fire in 2016 which led to her eventual demolition in 2017), whose construction was completed in 1989. As the VARUNA was larger and faster than the VIRGO and the VEGA, both ships were withdrawn from service in 1989. The VIRGO was sold to GA Ferries and became the RODANTHI, while the VEGA had to wait for a year until finding a new buyer. Ultimately, she would go on to follow her sister ship in Greece, as it was announced in 1990 that she had been bought by NEL Lines. Higashi Nihon Ferry would continue to operate until 2008, after which its ships were acquired by Dōnan Jidōsha Ferry, with the two companies then proceeding to form the newly-established company Tsugaru Kaikyō Ferry in 2009.

NEL Lines, the company for which the VEGA would go on to spend the remainder of her operational career was established in 1972 in Mytilene, the largest city of the island of Lesbos and the capital of the region of the North Aegean. Its name is the acronym of 'Naftiliaki Etaireia Lesbou', which stands for 'Maritime Company of Lesbos' in English. It was formed by the local communities of the islands of Chios and Lesbos, in order to ensure a daily and reliable ferry connection with Piraeus and the rest of Greece. This was after the successful establishment of ANEK Lines, which was a company that regrouped various shareholders based in Chania who were aiming to have a safe and regular connection of Crete with Piraeus through the Piraeus-Chania line, from 1967 onwards. With the formation of the Heraklion-based company Minoan Lines in 1972 as well, the residents of Chios and Lesbos sought to acquire their own vessel in order to have her serve the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. After securing the required funds, they proceeded to buying their first ship, namely the ferry SPERO of the British company Ellerman's Wilson Line. The ship was converted in Perama, was renamed SAPPHO, and entered service during the summer of 1973 on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Her introduction was an instant success, and she quickly became the most popular ship of the Northeast Aegean Sea, performing much more effectively than the ships that were previously operating there, namely those of Kavounides Lines and Efthymiadis Lines. Thanks to strong lobbying by the main shareholders of the company, the ship was embraced by the residents of Chios and Lesbos and eventually NEL Lines consolidated a near-monopoly on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line and remained largely unopposed there for the next 30 years. Thanks to the successful services of the SAPPHO, NEL Lines quickly saw to expand its fleet and areas of operations, just as ANEK Lines and Minoan Lines had done so. To that end, in 1975, the company purchased the ferry NILI of the Israeli company Weston Shipping Company. She was renamed ARION and was inserted on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Thessaloniki line, and alternatively (after returning to Piraeus from the Northeast Aegean Sea) on the Piraeus-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Rhodes-Limassol-Haifa line. This new service enabled the connection of the Northeast Aegean Sea with the Dodecanese, Cyprus and Israel via Piraeus and the Southern Aegean Sea. Dubbed an all-luxurious cruise on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, the services of the ARION were also deemed a major success. NEL Lines had now managed to secure the connection of the two largest islands of the Northeast Aegean Sea with not only the rest of Greece, but also establish an upgraded connection of Greece with two other countries through its ferry. Building on from this success, the company further enhanced its services in 1977 by bringing in the train ferry TRELLEBORG of the ferry division of the then-Swedish-state-owned railway company Statens Järnvägar. The ship was converted into a cruiseferry and was renamed HOMERUS. She was also deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala-Thessaloniki line along with the SAPPHO and the ARION. She became the fastest ferry to serve the area at the time, and was also the first one to link Mytilene with Piraeus in just 10 hours.

The company continued to grow impressively, even as it faced its first serious threat in 1979, when entrepreneurs from Chios decided to form their own company, NE Chiou, which deployed the ferry NISSOS CHIOS (previously the KAPELLA of the Finnish company Viking Line) on the Rafina-Chios line. While there were concerns that this would affect NEL Lines and its services to Chios, the company prevailed, even as the NISSOS CHIOS moved to the Piraeus-Chios-Psara line in 1983. NEL Lines was then affected by a tragic accident, when on 20 December 1981, the ARION was bombarded in a terrorist attack in Haifa, which resulted in the ship being severely damaged by a fire and being declared a constructive total loss. She was never repaired and was scrapped in Spain in 1984. Despite these setbacks, the company carried on with the addition of two new ships. These were the ALCAEOS (previously the MARELLA, also of Viking Line), which entered service in 1981 as a third ship on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, and the ODYSSEAS ELYTIS (previously the MEDITERRANEAN SUN of Karagiorgis Lines), which was bought in 1982 and was deployed on the Piraeus-Rhodes-Limassol line until 1985, when she was sold to a subsidiary of the Danish company DFDS called SeaEscape. The former played a vital role in supplementing the services of the HOMERUS and of the SAPPHO, while the latter did not operate as successfully as her predecessor, the ARION. Nonetheless, the company kept performing very well. Later on, in 1984, the ALCAEOS moved to the Dodecanese and operated on the Piraeus-Ikaria-Samos-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Rhodes line, where she competed very effectively against the ships of DANE Sea Line. The company then further expanded its fleet and operations on the Northeast Aegean Sea in 1989, when the Ro-Pax ferry GOLFO PARADISO of the Italian company Compagnia Sarda Di Navigazione Maritima (later known as Lloyd Sardegna) was acquired. She was renamed AGIOS RAFAEL and was also deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line and being primarily dedicated to freight services.

As the 1990s began, NEL Lines had become an established company on the Aegean Sea with four very reliable ferries. However, during that same period, several major Greek ferry companies had started to invest into larger, more modern, more comfortable and faster cruiseferries, especially on the Cyclades, Crete and the Dodecanese. Companies such as Minoan Lines, ANEK Lines, GA Ferries, Strintzis Lines, Agapitos Lines and Arkadia Lines introduced several impressive new ships that redefined the traveling experience on the Aegean Sea. In order not to stay behind this trend (even though none of these companies served Chios and Mytilene), NEL Lines also decided to buy a new large ferry that would upgrade passenger service on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Moreover, the HOMERUS would have to be retired in 1993, as she would be reaching 35 years of service since the year in which was built, and the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy had imposed a mandatory retirement for vessels reaching that age. To that end, the company sought to find a worthy successor, and this went on to be the VEGA. Having seen the successful introduction of the RODANTHI under GA Ferries (who actually considered buying the VEGA in order to reunite her with her sister ship, but this ultimately never occurred), NEL Lines concluded that she was the ideal ship to invest in. She was bought for $9.40 million and was renamed MYTILENE, after the eponymous city in Lesbos and where her company was headquartered. Unlike the other ships of the company (with the exception of the HOMERUS), she was not registered in Mytilene, but in Chios, so as to satisfy the company directors that were based from that island. The MYTILENE arrived in Piraeus in November 1990, and then headed to Perama for her anticipated conversion and refit in order to be upgraded to the standards of the Aegean Sea.

The MYTILENE seen after having just arrived in Piraeus for the first time, in November 1990. When she arrived in Greece, she was still carrying the livery of Higashi Nihon Ferry and her overall appearance was exactly the same as that of her career in Japan. Picture published on

Another view of the MYTILENE in the port of Piraeus in November 1990, shortly after her first arrival in Greece. She is docked in the E12 gate, next to the cruise terminal that is the closest to the current Terminal A 'Miaoulis'. She still features the livery of Higashi Nihon Ferry, and it is interesting to note that, underneath her name (written in Greek), the word "Hellas" (meaning 'Greece') is written instead of her eventual port of registry, namely Chios. Picture published on

The conversion of the MYTILENE lasted many months, as NEL Lines implemented many changes to the ship's structure and overall appearance, so that they would ensure that she would be the ideal vessel for the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. She was based in the Perama Ship Repair Zone, and her conversion was under the management and the supervision of Dimitrios Petrogonas, while the interior design was based on the works of the Italian ship designer Arminio Lozzi, who was known for having created much of the interior designs of the cruise ships of the once-glorious Greek cruise line Epirotiki Cruises (later known as Royal Olympic Cruises). With the aim of adding more passenger amenities, the ship saw her upper garage deck being remodeled in order to add new passenger cabins. In addition, her aft section was further upgraded, with the new indoor areas being added across an extended accommodation superstructure that was right on top of the former upper garage deck. The ship went on to acquire new indoor lounge areas, two new restaurants (one self-service restaurant and one à-la-carte restaurant), a disco bar, three bar areas, as well as a hospital room and a brand new reception hall. During her conversion, her bridge was severely destroyed by a fire, and this therefore led to the shipyard rebuilding it from scratch. This ultimately did not result in significant delays to the conversion altogether, as the work being done on the ship's indoor areas remained significant. Furthermore, the ship's outdoor areas also changed considerably, with several sun deck areas being added above the ship's stern and across most of her aft section. Her forward section was also upgraded, with the notable addition of balconies right above her bow. These made the ship more appealing aesthetically, and therefore the MYTILENE looked completely different to the ship that used to be the VEGA, and she was in fact now looking completely different to the RODANTHI, her sister ship. Furthermore, the ship was equipped with escalators located next to the passenger entrance (a feature that was extremely rare at the time in the Greek coastal service) Overall, the conversion was undertaken for a total cost of $8.80 million, and she saw her passenger capacity increasing to 1,735, along with the addition of 197 cabins together with 565 new beds. Her vehicle capacity was reduced, however, as the sacrificed upper garage deck meant that she could now carry just 265 cars, or 50 cars along with 60 lorries. NEL Lines also decided to keep the ship's starboard-side ramp located in the front section, thinking it would ease the loading and unloading of vehicles in all three main ports where she would be docking.

The MYTILENE seen in Perama in 1991, while she undergoes her conversion in order to enter service on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Her stern has been fully remodeled with the addition of several sun deck areas. Picture taken by Georgios Choriatellis and published on

In July 1992, after almost two years of conversion in Perama, the MYTILENE was ready for service in Greece. Under the command of Cpt Ioannis Tsesmelis, she was deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line on the Northeast Aegean Sea, thus succeeding the HOMERUS on the flagship service of NEL Lines. She also became the new flagship of the company, and she made an instant impact on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Despite hitting the pier of the port of Chios just one week after her entry to service, she did not have any damage and continued her services. She was later placed under the command of the legendary Cpt Zafeiris Vagias. Her impeccable indoor areas and her large number of passenger cabins made her one of the most luxurious and most comfortable ships of the Greek coastal service, and her speed (which sometimes reached 22 knots) made her an extremely reliable and beloved ferry on the line on which she was operating. She rapidly became a reference point for Chios and Mytilene, and was the favourite ship of many passengers traveling to and from these islands. Her entry to service helped propel NEL Lines into one of the most successful ferry operators in Greece, as their profits more than doubled and their reputation as a passenger-friendly company was confirmed. Even those that did not travel to the Northeast Aegean Sea and who saw the MYTILENE in Piraeus were extremely impressed with her appearance, a trait that would remain even as she neared the end of her career. She formed a spectacular duo with the SAPPHO, in spite of the latter experiencing a decline in her technical abilities (despite her machinery being renovated in 1991) as she neared two decades of service with NEL Lines. While the SAPPHO had been dubbed  'The Queen of the Aegean Sea' during the 1970s and the 1980s, the MYTILENE herself was known as  'The Queen of the Northeast Aegean Sea', being compared to an actual cruise ship by the residents of Chios and Mytilene. Together with the reliable performances of the ever-loyal-serving ALCAEOS and those of the AGIOS RAFAEL (which notably operated on a direct service on the Piraeus-Mytilene line), NEL Lines was thriving. They attempted to make a break on the Adriatic Sea with the HOMERUS (as international services did not require a mandatory retirement for ferries at 35 years old), which was deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Bari line. However, the service was not successful and the ship was sold in 1993 to the Greek-Cypriot company Salamis Lines, for whom she operated as the NISSOS KYPROS until she was sold for scrap in 2003.

The MYTILENE, having been entirely remodeled and renovated, seen docked in her namesake port during the 1992 season, which was her first one in Greece and under NEL Lines. She immediately became the best ship to operate on the Northeast Aegean Sea, and her onboard amenities and speed made her the favourite ship of the passengers traveling on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Picture taken by Rijn De Ruiter and published on

The MYTILENE seen in Piraeus during her debut season in 1992. Picture taken by Georgios Choriatellis and published on

The MYTILENE seen as she sails to Piraeus along the coast of Attica in 1993. This iconic picture would feature in several advertisement brochures and magazines of NEL Lines, as well as on many postcards. Picture published on

The spectacular services of the MYTILENE saw the ship being chosen as the best ship of the Greek coastal service in 1993 and in 1994, as voted by the Greek shipping-themed magazine 'Efoplistis' which had just started publications. She continued to be the jewel of the Northeast Aegean Sea, to the point that she began to overshadow the beloved SAPPHO. With the Greek coastal service continuing to experience a major boom with many new ferries and operators performing multiple island connections across the Aegean Sea, NEL Lines sought to further build-on from its success with the MYTILENE by making key decisions, both operationally and structurally. Under the leadership of Ioannis Antoniou, the company decided to further improve its services on the Northeast Aegean Sea in 1994 by deploying the ALCAEOS on a lifeline based from Rafina, namely the Rafina-Patmos-Samos-Chios-Mytilene-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala-Thessaloniki line (while also performing a trip on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line once a week). This proved to be a major success, and the ship managed to push the NISSOS CHIOS out of the area, resulting in the collapse of NE Chiou and the ship being laid-up until she was sold for scrap in 2006. In 1995, the company made further moves, by notably making an initial public offering and being listed in the Athens Stock Exchange (hence following the trend of major Greek companies, such as Minoan Lines and the newly-established company Superfast Ferries). Moreover, the company proceeded to buying a larger ship for the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, in order to add capacity to an ever-increasing demand for passenger and freight service on the Northeast Aegean Sea, for which the garages of the SAPPHO and of the MYTILENE were not large enough. This new ship was the cruiseferry POLLUX of Ventouris Ferries (previously the NILS HOLGERSSON of the German company TT-Line GmbH and then the ABEL TASMAN of the Australian company TT-Line Company Pty Ltd), which was renamed THEOFILOS and became the new flagship of NEL Lines. She was inserted on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene along with the MYTILENE and the SAPPHO, which continued to operate on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line and on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line, respectively. Despite having a rocky start due to colliding with the main pier of the port of Chios (hence experiencing an accident similar to that of the MYTILENE during her own debut season), the THEOFILOS further cemented the dominance of NEL Lines together with the MYTILENE. They would go on to remain the main duo of the company on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line for the next 13 years, and they are largely viewed as one of the greatest duos in the history of the Greek coastal service. The company expanded further into the Northeast Aegean Sea, by deploying the AGIOS RAFAEL on the Piraeus-Syros-Psara-Chios-Mytilene-Volos line, hence connecting Volos with many islands for the first time. The ship would then also serve Rafina along with the ALCAEOS in 1996, as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Rafina-Syros-Psara-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Volos line. The THEOFILOS further complemented the MYTILENE on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line, and NEL Lines remained the unbreakable powerhouse of the Northeast Aegean Sea for the remainder of the decade.

A historic picture featuring four ships of NEL Lines being docked together in the port of Mytilene in 1996. These are (from left to right) the THEOFILOS, the MYTILENE, the ALCAEOS and the SAPPHO. This incredible picture is the pure illustration of how great NEL Lines used to be as a company, especially during the 1990s, at a time during which it was linking the islands of the Northeast Aegean Sea with the rest of Greece under numerous itineraries. Picture taken by Nikos Matas and published on

The MYTILENE seen docked in Piraeus during the summer of 1996. She had by now been an established ship on the Northeast Aegean Sea and on the Greek coastal service altogether. Picture published on

The MYTILENE seen docked in Mytilene, while the THEOFILOS is seen having entered the port, during the 1998 season. Picture published on

With the continuous success of its ships and in particular of the MYTILENE, NEL Lines remained a dominant company on the Northeast Aegean Sea, and maintained a monopoly on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. New developments from 1997 included the addition of Alexandroupolis on the lifeline served by the ALCAEOS from Rafina, as well as occasional services linking the Northeast Aegean Sea with the Dodecanese along the Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Rhodes line from 1997 to 1999. That year, NEL Lines decided to further expand its fleet by planning to add four new ships. The first of them was the RO-Pax ferry EUROMANTIQUE of the Swedish company Euroway, which had been laid-up since 1998 after an unsuccessful charter to the Spanish company Isnasa. That ship, which also had a brief spell under the Greek company AK Ventouris as the AGIA METHODIA on the Patras-Brindisi line on the Adriatic Sea from 1994 to 1995, arrived in Perama in 1999 and was renamed TAXIARCHIS. She was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Chios-Mytilene line, and she therefore complemented the services of the three ships that operated there, namely the MYTILENE, the THEOFILOS and the SAPPHO. Her entry to service proved to be very successful as well, and she was largely praised for providing additional vehicle capacity as well as a fair amount of passengers, as opposed to the smaller AGIOS RAFAEL which began to be outdated and no longer able to respond to the ever-growing passenger and freight demand. As a result, the ship would end her career under NEL Lines following the 2000 season, and she was sold the following year to the Fijian company Consort Shipping, for whom she operated as the SPIRIT OF FIJI ISLANDS on the Koro Sea until she sank in 2013.

The other three ships would turn out to be the most impressive ones to have served under NEL Lines. However, they were also the ones that marked the start of the company's decline, and ultimately its demise. Indeed, these were three high speed ferries that were due to be built in France and due to be delivered between 2000 and 2001. They were advertised as the fastest ships to operate in Greece, and they were expected to propel NEL Lines to the top of the Greek ferry market, even as the latter saw radical changes occurring from 1998 to 2000. Indeed, at that time, the company Minoan Flying Dolphins was formed, and it absorbed almost all the companies that were operating on the Cyclades, on the Saronic Gulf and on the Sporades. The company also considered taking over shares of NEL Lines, but this never happened and the latter kept all its fleet and services on the Northeast Aegean Sea. They also acquired a 70% stake of the Greek company Med Link Ferries which was operating on the Adriatic Sea, while ANEK Lines itself eventually purchased a few shares previously owned by NEL Lines, and the latter proceeded to performing the order of the three new high speed ferries. The first one to be deployed was the AEOLOS EXPRESS, which began service in 2000 on the Piraeus-Rafina-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Chios-Mytilene line. The following year, the AEOLOS KENTERIS was delivered to the company. She was the largest high speed ferry in the world, as well as the fastest high speed craft in the Greek coastal service (at least that was as she was being marketed), and she was inserted on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line along with the conventional ferries of NEL Lines, performing the leg from Piraeus to Mytilene in barely less than five hours. She also became the new flagship of the company, although she would later lose this title back to the THEOFILOS a few years later. The last ship of the trio, the AEOLOS EXPRESS II, was also delivered in 2001 after several delays and technical issues, and was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line (while also performing a few services on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line as well). Despite their potential, the three high speed craft never managed to deliver and to make profits for the company. While they did manage to transport several passengers, their results were mixed. The AEOLOS KENTERIS was too large and too fast for the Northeast Aegean Sea, and she was notably criticised for generating large waves in the beaches of Chios and Lesbos, as well as further coasts such as those in Chalkidiki. This led to numerous complaints and accidents, and this damaged the company's reputation. NEL Lines was also too inexperienced regarding the technical management of high speed craft (having also believed that bunker prices would remain low despite the ships' high bunker consumption and that they would be able to operate with a single crew), as opposed to Minoan Flying Dolphins (which became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002) which had established a strong brandname with its 'Highspeed' vessels on the Cyclades. As a result, the AEOLOS EXPRESS and the AEOLOS EXPRESS II were not able to match the success of their competitors on the Cyclades, where NEL Lines was also an unestablished operator due to having previously focused on the Northeast Aegean Sea and on the Dodecanese. They also encountered numerous technical problems, which the company initially blamed the shipyard in which they were built for, but even after properly maintaining them, problems persisted. The company was also affected by the 2000 stock market crash in Athens, and therefore its growth was hampered, especially after it had previously raised new share capital. Despite these first setbacks, NEL Lines continued to provide excellent services through the MYTILENE, the THEOFILOS and the TAXIARCHIS. Later on, in 2001, the company saw the first serious competition in many years arriving on their flagship service. Indeed, Minoan Flying Dolphins deployed the cruiseferry FEDRA (previously owned by Minoan Lines and also, coincidentally, the sister ship of the THEOFILOS) on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. However, the ship was unable to perform better than those of NEL Lines and she was withdrawn after just one season. In spite of these volatile events, the MYTILENE remained vital to the company, and was still the favourite ship of the residents of Chios and of Mytilene.

The MYTILENE seen resting in the port of Piraeus in 2000. During a time filled with many ups and downs for NEL Lines, the ship remained very reliable and effective, and continued to be known as 'The Queen of the Northeast Aegean Sea'. Picture taken by Peter Inpijn and published on

The MYTILENE seen after having just entered the port of Piraeus, following the completion of one of usual trips on the Northeast Aegean Sea, during the summer of 2001. Picture taken by Georgios Choriatellis and published on

As the Greek coastal service continued to witness various developments marked by the delivery of several newly-built ferries (most notably for companies likes Minoan Lines, Superfast Ferries, Blue Star Ferries which had been established in 2000 as the successor of Strintzis Lines, ANEK Lines and NEL Lines) as well as the retirement of several veteran ships (in particular following the tragic sinking of the EXPRESS SAMINA on 26 September 2000), NEL Lines tried to keep a steady profile with its ships. The TAXIARCHIS had been deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala-Thessaloniki line as an additional ship. The AEOLOS EXPRESS was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ikaria-Samos line in 2001, but she again failed to operate successfully. This was also the case for the other two high speed ferries, even as the AEOLOS KENTERIS then made an unsuccessful entry on the Piraeus-Kalymnos-Kos-Rhodes line on the Dodecanese in 2002, after which she returned to the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line in 2003, where she continued to cause problems in local beaches of the Northeast Aegean Sea. In addition, NEL Lines proceeded to selling its two longest-serving ships in 2002. Indeed, the SAPPHO, which had been operating for the company ever since it had started operations, was sold to Karras-Pontikos Lines and operated as the SANTORINI 3 in Tanzania until she was sold for scrap in 2004. Along with her, the ALCAEOS was sold as well, namely to the Turkish company Sariaroğlu Shipping & Trading, for whom she operated as the SOCHI EXPRESS on the Trabzon-Sochi line on the Black Sea until she was sold for scrap in 2004 as well. Wither her departure, NEL Lines stopped connecting Rafina with the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands and for some time ceased to focus on the lifelines of the Northeast Aegean Sea, which were instead served by the ships of Saos Ferries. The SAPPHO, on the other hand, had already shown signs of fatigue in her last years under NEL Lines, as her advanced age and numerous technical problems combined with her outdated speed saw her leaving the company at 36 years old. To that end, the renewed fleet of NEL Lines consisted of the three conventional ferries operating on the flagship service of the company (namely the MYTILENE, the THEOFILOS and the TAXIARCHIS) and of the three troublesome high speed ferries. Due to their technical issues and their inability to make profits for the company, the AEOLOS EXPRESS and the AEOLOS EXPRESS II did not operate during the 2005 season and during the 2006 season. In 2005, ANEK Lines ceased its involvement with NEL Lines, and its shares were taken over by a holding company named Edgewater Holdings. For the 2006 season, the lineup remained the same, with the TAXIARCHIS serving the Piraeus-Mykonos-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos line. Additionally, the AEOLOS KENTERIS saw her engines being fully refitted and she was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Santorini line, where she had a decent season, but not enough to overtake the high speed ferries of Hellenic Seaways, which was the successor of Hellas Flying Dolphins. The latter also sought to deploy, after many years of delays, a ship in the territory of NEL Lines. This was the newly-built NISSOS MYKONOS (known as the BLUE STAR MYCONOS of Blue Star Ferries since 2020), which entered service in 2005 on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. This new ship was extremely modern, comfortable and had significant passenger capacity. Her innovative design and amenities made her perhaps the most impressive new introduction on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line since the MYTILENE herself back in 1992. Moreover, Saos Ferries also made a major entry into the area, deploying the ferry SAMOTHRAKI on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line for two seasons, after having also started to operate the Ro-Ro carrier PANAGIA KRIMNIOTISSA (previously the STAR TRAILER of Express Sea Trailers and Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins) on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line since 2003. Overall, these years would ultimately destabilise the company and its guaranteed success on the Aegean Sea was beginning to be seriously challenged, primarily due to strong competitors and the disappointing performances of its high speed ferries. Despite this, the MYTILENE continued to be the best-performing ship of NEL Lines, with very few problems overall.

The MYTILENE seen resting in Piraeus in 2003. By that time, the ship had just turned 30 and was now considered a veteran ferry of the Greek coastal service. Despite this, she still performed her services at very high standards. Picture taken by Ted Blank and published on

The MYTILENE seen in her usual docking spot in the E2 gate in Piraeus, where she was loading passengers and vehicles in order to head to Chios and Mytilene during the 2004 season. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on

The MYTILENE seen in Piraeus in late 2004, as she saw her livery being modified. Indeed, NEL Lines had signed an advertising deal with the home appliances and telecommunications company LG, which resulted in the latter featuring on the ship's hull, as well as that of the THEOFILOS. This deal was made after the three high speed ferries of NEL Lines (namely the AEOLOS KENTERIS, the AEOLOS EXPRESS and the AEOLOS EXPRESS II) had spent the summers of 2003 and 2004 advertising fellow telecommunications companies TIM and Telestet, respectively. These deals echoed those undertaken by Hellas Flying Dolphins/Hellenic Seaways with Vodafone from 2005 to 2013. Picture taken by Michael Van Bosch and published on

The MYTILENE seen in Piraeus, with the full livery of the LG advertisement signs on her hull during the 2005 season. Unlike the three high speed ferries whose hulls were repainted in blue, the ship kept her traditional white livery, along with the famed trireme logo of NEL Lines. Picture taken by Marius Esman and published on

Another view of the MYTILENE in Piraeus during the 2005 season, as she was being sponsored by LG. Picture taken by Andreas Wörteler and published on

The MYTILENE seen leaving the port of Mytilene during the summer of 2006. That year, after the sponsorship deal with LG had ended, the ship sailed with a simple all-white livery without the NEL Lines insignia being written on both sides of her hull. They were eventually added back in early 2007. Picture published on

The MYTILENE seen in Piraeus in 2007, carrying the NEL Lines insignia of both sides of her hull once again. This was now her sixteenth consecutive season on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line. Picture taken by Kostas Loudaros and published on

Following two very turbulent seasons in 2006 and in 2007, NEL Lines came in 2007 with the hopes of an overall turnaround. However, that year also proved to be very volatile, with a few expansions as well as some fleet departures. In terms of expansion, the company proceeded to acquiring the company C-Link Ferries (previously known as AK Ventouris, who once owned the TAXIARCHIS) which was under the management of Apostolos Ventouris. This resulted in NEL Lines acquiring four new ships, namely the conventional ferries PANAGIA TINOU (previously the LEMNOS of Nomicos Lines and then of Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins) and PANAGIA HOZOVIOTISSA (formerly the ARGOSTOLI of NEKI and then of Ionian Lines and Seven Islands Lines, as well as the MYRTOS of Nea Pnoi Shipping), and two high speed ferries that were sister ships, namely the PANAGIA THALASSINI and the PANAGIA PAROU. The two conventional ferries were operating on the subsidised inter-Cyclades services based from Lavrion and Syros, while the two high speed craft had previously operated on the Cyclades. The PANAGIA THALASSINI had spent the 2006 season on the Lavrion-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the PANAGIA PAROU was on the Lavrion-Paros-Naxos-Amorgos line. The four ships joined NEL Lines, and the two conventional ferries remained on their inter-Cyclades services, namely the Lavrion-Kea-Kythnos-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Sikinos-Folegandros-Kimolos-Milos-Sifnos-Serifos lifeline served by the PANAGIA HOZOVIOTISSA and the Lavrion-Kea-Kythnos-Andros-Tinos-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Schoinousa-Irakleia-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini-Anafi lifeline served by the PANAGIA TINOU. The PANAGIA THALASSINI was introduced on a new service on the Lavrion-Kythnos-Paros-Naxos-Amorgos line during the 2007 season. The AEOLOS EXPRESS II was reactivated after two years and was inserted on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line after having been renamed AEOLOS KENTERIS II. That year therefore saw NEL Lines attempting to further assert its presence on the Cyclades, and therefore investing beyond the Northeast Aegean Sea. They also tried their luck in Crete for the first time, as they reactivated the AEOLOS EXPRESS (which had been renamed AEOLOS KENTERIS I) with upgraded engines, so that she could operate on the Piraeus-Rethymnon line, which was left vacated by ANEK Lines. However, these new additions were also coupled with several fleet departures. Indeed, in order to generate more funds, the company sold the PANAGIA PAROU together with the problematic AEOLOS KENTERIS to the Egyptian company Namma Lines, and the ships were renamed RED SEA II and RED SEA I, respectively. They headed for service on the Safaga-Jeddah line on the Red Sea. They were also joined there by the TAXIARCHIS, which was chartered for the duration of the summer of 2007. Therefore, the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line was left with only two ships, namely the THEOFILOS and the MYTILENE. The latter remained very effective, especially under the command of the excellent Cpt Diamantis Papageorgiou. However, the competition there continued to increase. Indeed, despite the departure of the SAMOTHRAKI of Saos Ferries from the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line (after which she headed to the Thessaloniki-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos line), Hellenic Seaways began to attract more passengers onboard the NISSOS MYKONOS. The company then further enhanced its services on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line by having the sister ship of the NISSOS MYKONOS, the NISSOS CHIOS (known as the BLUE STAR CHIOS of Blue Star Ferries since 2020), delivered to them in 2007. As she had more passenger cabins than the NISSOS MYKONOS, she replaced the latter and quickly made an impact on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Both sister ships also earned the prestigious 'Ship of the Year' award given by Llody's List Greek Shipping Awards for 2006 and 2007, respectively. Hellenic Seaways itself won the 'Passenger Lines of the Year' award in the 2007 event, mainly due to its success on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. As such, NEL Lines saw their previously-uncontested dominance on the Northeast Aegean Sea being now seriously challenged. Things were not made better by the fact that the THEOFILOS had started to display several technical issues beginning in 2005, as a result of poor maintenance and rushed refits, with NEL Lines paying little attention to her declining machinery. As a result, the ship started to experience numerous delays and engine troubles, something that she would go on to suffer for the rest of her career and which would result in heavy criticism by regular travelers on the Northeast Aegean Sea. In spite of all these setbacks and the troubled situation of NEL Lines, the MYTILENE continued to thrive, even as she was nearing 35 years of service. The mandatory retirement for reaching that age limit had been removed since 2006, hence this meant that the ship was able to continue her operations beyond 2008.

The MYTILENE seen having entered the port of Piraeus during the summer of 2007, which was quite a challenging one for NEL Lines. Picture taken by Aleksi Lindström and published on

The MYTILENE seen departing the port of Piraeus during the summer of 2007. Picture taken by Jukka Koskimies and published on

The MYTILENE seen sailing off the coast of Attica in early 2008, just a few months after she received the new livery of NEL Lines. Indeed, all the ships had their hulls painted in dark blue throughout 2007. As a result, NEL Lines abandoned the all-white livery previously seen on its ships, even though the high speed craft of the company had already been painted in dark blue since 2003. Picture published on

After a very challenging 2007 season, NEL Lines hoped for a more prosperous 2008. Yet again, the company experienced yet another turbulent year. While the TAXIARCHIS returned to the company, the PANAGIA THALASSINI was withdrawn and remained in Perama and then in Lavrion for the entire 2008 season, amidst rumours that she would also be heading to Namma Lines, although this never happened. The AEOLOS KENTERIS I left the Piraeus-Rethymnon line after just one season and was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line. The year was, however, marked by two notable accidents which heavily affected the operations of NEL Lines. The first one was the collision of the AEOLOS KENTERIS II with the RODANTHI of GA Ferries (and, of course, the sister ship of the MYTILENE) in Piraeus in April 2008, which resulted in the bow of the high speed craft being severely damaged. She was reactivated but then left for the Red Sea, under charter to Namma Lines. But the most severe accident was that of the THEOFILOS two months later. Indeed, the cruiseferry was heading from Piraeus to Chios when she ran aground in the island of Oinousses late at night while carrying 475 passengers and 97 crew members. The hull on her port side was significantly damaged, with a large slash causing water to infiltrate some of her water tight compartments, and this resulted in the ship developing a 2.50 degree list. She was ultimately savaged in time and was towed to Elefsina. Her damage saw her missing the rest of the season and remaining in Salamina until repairs began in Perama. She only returned to service in May 2009, with the repairs having cost the company an estimated €5 million. Being left without one of their main ferries, NEL Lines only had the MYTILENE and the TAXIARCHIS on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Hellenic Seaways took much advantage of the loss and the NISSOS CHIOS was able to consolidate her dominance on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. Things became worse after ANEK Lines also decided to enter on the Northeast Aegean Sea in order to fill the void left by the THEOFILOS, doing so by deploying the veteran ferry LISSOS on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line. The ship proved to be very successful, and therefore the dominance of NEL Lines was now over, as it now faced two very serious competitors.

The MYTILENE seen docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2008, one that was even more challenging as she did not operate alongside her usual partner, namely the THEOFILOS. Picture taken by Dennis Mortimer and published on

A very special picture showing two sister ships built in Japan and operating for different companies in Greece. Most importantly, both ships went on to have spectacular careers in the Greek coastal service, and they are regarded as two of the best ferries to have ever operated on the Aegean Sea. The MYTILENE, previously known as the VEGA in Japan, seen leaving the port of Piraeus in 2008, while the RODANTHI, previously the VIRGO, seen arriving in the port. Picture published on

For the 2009 season, NEL Lines continued to face many uncertainties, especially as the competition continued to threaten them. In a dire need of securing more revenue as shareholders began to become dissatisfied with the limited amount of capital, the company sought to reassert its dominance on the Northeast Aegean Sea by taking over several subsidised lifelines that were abandoned by Saos Ferries at the end of the 2008 season, following their financial issues. The TAXIARCHIS was deployed on the Lavrion-Psara-Mytilene-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala line, while the repaired THEOFILOS was deployed on the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line. The PANAGIA THALASSINI was reactivated and was deployed on the Sporades and the Northeast Aegean Sea, serving the Volos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Limnos-Agios Efstratios-Psara-Chios line. The AEOLOS KENTERIS I and the AEOLOS KENTERIS II had replaced the PANAGIA HOZOVIOTISSA and the PANAGIA TINOU on their respective inter-Cyclades lifeline services, which resulted in both conventional ferries being retired. The PANAGIA TINOU was sold in 2009 to the Turkish company Trabzon Shipping and was renamed TRABZON, while the PANAGIA HOZOVIOTISSA remained under lay-up until she was sold for scrap to Turkey in 2010. The MYTILENE remained alone on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line, competing against the NISSOS CHIOS and the LISSOS, as well as the Ro-Ro carrier ALEXANDRA T of Tsirikos Lines (previously the SATURNUS of Ventouris Ferries) which was withdrawn later in the season. Overall, NEL Lines performed well in 2009, but the competitors won further ground on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line as the company was left with just one ship. The company also remained under financial uncertainty, but then surprisingly announced the return of the AEOLOS KENTERIS and of the PANAGIA PAROU after purchasing them back from Namma Lines, where the two ships had largely underperformed. There were therefore several rumours regarding where the two high speed craft would be deployed in 2010. At the same time, the Greek financial crisis also started to have a large effect on the ferry sector, and many companies would soon cease most if not all their operations. One of them GA Ferries, which ceased to operate altogether after the summer of 2009 ended. All of its ships were laid-up in Piraeus and in Elefsina and later headed for scrap, including the RODANTHI which headed to Aliağa in 2012.

The MYTILENE seen exiting the port of Piraeus during the 2009 season. This was the first season during which she did not have a partner on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line, but she nevertheless performed very well that year. Picture taken by Manos Petrakos and published on

The MYTILENE docked in Piraeus during the summer of 2009. Picture taken by Georgios Koutsoukis and published on

Ahead of the 2010 season, NEL Lines experienced a dramatic and unexpected change in their strategy. Indeed, despite its various economic, technical and operational problems that hampered them for the entirety of the 2000s, the company proceeded to perform an impressive fleet expansion by buying and chartering numerous passenger ships and Ro-Ro carriers. These included the MYRTIDIOTISSA of ANEN Lines (which was renamed AQUA MARIA), the AQUA JEWEL of Alpha Ferries, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS of Access Ferries, the Ro-Ro carriers of Adriatic Lines RO-PAX 1 (which was renamed AQUA HERCULES) and RO-PAX 2 (which was renamed OLYMPUS) and the Ro-Ro carrier MYKONOS of Mykonos ANE (now the TALOS of Creta Cargo Lines). They also went on to charter the high speed craft of My Ferries that were being prepared for the summer season, the MYCAT I (which was renamed ALKIONI) and the MYCAT II (which was renamed CYCLADES EXPRESS, and is now the NAXOS JET of Sea Jets), two Ro-Ro carriers built in Japan (the COLOSSUS and the IPPOTIS). With all these new acquisitions, they proceeded to expand their services on the Aegean Sea as well as on the Adriatic Sea. The AQUA JEWEL was inserted on the inter-Cyclades lifeline previously served by the AEOLOS KENTERIS I, which spent the 2010 season on charter to the French company SNCM (which has been known as Corsica Linea since 2016) as the NGV LIAMONE II. The MYKONOS, the COLOSSUS and the IPPOTIS were introduced under the new NEL Lines Cargo division. The MYKONOS was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ikaria-Samos line, while the COLOSSUS and the IPPOTIS operated on the Cyclades and on the Dodecanese, on the Piraeus-Kos-Rhodes line and on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ikaria-Samos-Kos-Rhodes line, respectively. The AQUA HERCULES and the OLYMPUS remained on the Adriatic Sea and served the Corinth-Ancona line and the Trieste-Durrës line, respectively (they would then both head to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line in 2011). The AQUA MARIA was converted in late 2010 and entered service on the Lavrion-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala, where she replaced the TAXIARCHIS, which moved to the Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line and joined the THEOFILOS on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline. The PANAGIA THALASSINI won the subsidy contract for the Lavrion-Chios-Psara line, and therefore the company had another lifeline to serve on the Northeast Aegean Sea. It also made a full entry on the Sporades, where the ALKIONI was deployed on the Volos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Thessaloniki line. The PANAGIA PAROU was also due to operate there, but she instead headed to the Adriatic Sea and operated on the Bari-Durrës line. The CYCLADES EXPRESS was deployed on the Heraklion-Santorini line for just a few days in August before being withdrawn. But perhaps the most noteworthy deployment was that of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS, which joined the MYTILENE on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. This was done in order for NEL Lines to reassert itself on its flagship service and to improve their performance against the NISSOS CHIOS and the LISSOS. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS and the MYTILENE, despite being 36 years old 37 years old, respectively, performed extremely well together. While they were unable to match the services of the NISSOS CHIOS, they did impose some damage to ANEK Lines, which withdrew the LISSOS after the season ended and sold her for scrap in 2011. The year was considered satisfactory overall for NEL Lines, but some of their services on the Adriatic Sea and on the Dodecanese, as well as on the Heraklion-Santorini line, were not successful. Moreover, the THEOFILOS in particular had another poor season marked by engine failures and delayed trips, and therefore many locals complained further. Additionally, the company was still left with some unemployable ships, most notably the AEOLOS KENTERIS which had not performed any trips since her return from the Red Sea.

The MYTILENE seen as she leaves the port of Mytilene during the summer of 2010. Picture taken by Georgios Choriatellis and published on

The MYTILENE seen docked in her namesake port in 2010, during another very effective summer season during which she was part of a great duo along with the EUROPEAN EXPRESS. Picture taken by Georgios Solomos and published on

The surprising moves and overall expansion performed by NEL Lines during the 2010 season carried on in 2011, albeit to a lesser extent. While the lineup on the Northeast Aegean Sea remained mostly the same, the company further dedicated itself to the Cyclades and the Sporades. The Heraklion-Santorini line performed by the CYCLADES EXPRESS was abandoned, but the company made a major move by acquiring the ferry MR SHOPPY ONE of the Swedish company Mr Shoppy (a ship built in Greece in 2001 and which was previously the AGIOS ANDREAS II of Agios Andreas Shipping and then the ANDREAS II of Kefalonia Lines before her sale to Sweden in 2007). The ship was renamed AQUA SPIRIT and replaced the AEOLOS KENTERIS II on the Lavrion-Kea-Kythnos-Andros-Tinos-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Schoinousa-Irakleia-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini-Anafi lifeline. The high speed ferry was sent for lay-up in Salamina, where she has remained ever since. The company further enhanced its presence on the Sporades by deploying the PANAGIA PAROU on the Agios Konstantinos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line, while the ALKIONI was on the Thessaloniki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line. The AEOLOS KENTERIS I, which had completed her charter under SNCM and reverted back to her previous name, was also sent to the Adriatic Sea, performing services on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Brindisi line during the high season only. The AEOLOS KENTERIS was also finally reactivated and performed very few trips on the Adriatic Sea as well, on the Bari-Durrës line in place of the PANAGIA PAROU. The company also attempted to operate on the connection of Mytilene with Turkey, which was materialised after the purchase of the landing craft KONSTANTINOS G of Costal Lines, which was serving the Mytilene-Dikili line. She was refitted and resumed her service there. The 2011 season was deemed successful overall, despite continuous technical issues for some ships like the THEOFILOS (which missed the entire 2011 season due to more engine troubles) and the TAXIARCHIS. While the fleet expansion was well received by passengers, it was met with skepticism by some, as it seemed incomprehensible for a company that was mainly based on government-subsidised lifelines to buy and charter so many ferries at once, including some that had been inactive for as many as two years. Eventually, these acquisitions caused a huge debt for the company, from which they never recovered and which ended-up sealing their demise just four years later.

Indeed, by 2012, just two years after expanding their fleet, NEL Lines had already confirmed that it had reached a ceiling, as several of the ships they chartered left after only one or two seasons. The CYCLADES EXPRESS and the ALKIONI were sent for lay-up in 2010 and 2012 respectively, the departures of the IPPOTIS and of the COLOSSUS ended the company's presence on the Dodecanese after only two years (they were then scrapped in 2014 and in 2013, respectively), the AQUA HERCULES and the OLYMPUS had an unsuccessful spell on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line and were sold to the Emirati company SAMC (and spent the next years laid-up in Port Saïd, with the OLYMPUS heading for scrap in 2017), the PANAGIA THALASSINI and the PANAGIA PAROU ended their respective services on the Sporades and on the Northeast Aegean Sea in order to be chartered to Inter Shipping on the Algeciras-Tangier Med line on the Gibraltar Strait (a charter that lasted just a season and which turned out to be a failure, as both owners and charterers ended-up suffering from economic problems). The Lavrion-Chios-Psara line served by the PANAGIA THALASSINI was taken over by the AQUA MARIA, whose service on the Lavrion-Psara-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala was assigned to the TAXIARCHIS. The AEOLOS KENTERIS, the AEOLOS KENTERIS I and the AEOLOS KENTERIS II were laid-up in Salamina after the 2011 season ended. With the impact of the Greek financial crisis and the high fuel costs, together with their history of technical issues and unsuccessful services, the three ships were never reactivated again by the company, despite some attempts to do so in 2012 and in 2013. But their unprofitability made all these scenarios impossible, especially as NEL Lines would go on to lose their ground on the Northeast Aegean Sea. Indeed, even though ANEK Lines had stopped services in the region after the 2010 season, the company faced a new and far more serious threat similar to that of Hellenic Seaways when they brought the NISSOS MYKONOS and then the NISSOS CHIOS on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line. This was the introduction of the newly-built BLUE STAR PATMOS of Blue Star Ferries, which was deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene to compete against NEL Lines and Hellenic Seaways. This impressive new ferry quickly made an impact, and now NEL Lines found themselves having veteran ferries competing against two very modern and faster cruiseferries. They tried to improve the situation by having three ships serving Chios and Mytilene from Piraeus. To that end, the repaired THEOFILOS was brought back to its flagship service, operating on the Piraeus-Ikaria-Samos-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala-Thessaloniki line. The MYTILENE also began operating in Ikaria and in Samos for the first time (mainly due to the fact that there were uncertainties regarding the deployment of the NISSOS MYKONOS on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Samos line, where she had been based since 2007), as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Ikaria-Samos-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line to complement the services of the THEOFILOS. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS served Chios and Mytilene directly from Piraeus as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line. Despite their efforts, the BLUE STAR PATMOS and the NISSOS CHIOS proved to be far superior than the three ships of NEL Lines, whose ages ranged from 37 years old to 39 years old. Moreover, the services of the THEOFILOS once again came under scrutiny and she had another major engine failure in October 2012, which caused to miss many days of service. Altogether, the decline of the company was now inevitable, and it could only rely on the subsidies given by the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy and on the ships that did not have technical issues, most notably the MYTILENE.

The MYTILENE seen docked in Limnos during the 2011 season, which was once again very successful for the ship in spite of her company's problems. This was notably her twentieth consecutive season on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Thessaloniki line, with her spell being the second longest-ever after that of the SAPPHO, which operated there for 29 years. Picture taken by Andreas Michailidis and published on

The MYTILENE seen departing the port of Chios during the summer of 2012. While Greece and NEL Lines were facing an extremely difficult period, she continued to perform at very high standards, just like she had done when she first started her career on the Northeast Aegean Sea back in 1992. Picture published on

At the conclusion of the 2012 summer season, the problems of NEL Lines had become evident and there were concerns regarding the company's profitability, despite the subsidies given for the lifelines on the Northeast Aegean Sea and on the inter-Cyclades services. The media also started reporting that many crew members had failed to be paid on time, and that the company could no longer afford significant maintenance activities, particularly for its older ferries. NEL Lines also found themselves with numerous ships under lay-up, with some being later confiscated due to debts owed to the ports in which they were docked. At the same time, the MYTILENE moved to the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line in order to replace the IERAPETRA L of ANEK Lines (today the AQUA BLUE of Sea Jets), which had spent the 2012 season there but was withdrawn from service by her company. There were rumours that the MYTILENE would be deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line on the Cyclades in 2013, and the company actually requested a license for this service, but this ultimately never happened.

The MYTILENE seen in Perama in late 2012, after having completed her annual refit. She was now leaving in order to head to Piraeus so as to start her new operations on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line. Picture published on

The year 2013, during which the MYTILENE turned 40, proved to be a disastrous one for NEL Lines. Indeed, just as January began, the company was dealt with a huge blow. This came after the two ships operating on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, the THEOFILOS and the EUROPEAN EXPRESS, were shockingly arrested by their crews, and this marked the first time that the company did not have a ship operating on its flagship line, which it had been serving continuously for 40 years. While there were attempts to solve the situation and reactivate the ships, frequent passengers on the Northeast Aegean Sea had started to lose their patience with the company's unreliability, and were now more keen to travel with the NISSOS CHIOS and the BLUE STAR PATMOS. Many lorry drivers also became dissatisfied with NEL Lines, instead preferring to use the Ro-Ro carrier PELAGITIS of Ainaftis, which had started operations on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line in 2010. The MYTILENE was not added back to the line that she had been serving for 20 years, as Ikaria, Fournoi and Samos would be left with no ferry connection to and from Piraeus, as the IERAPETRA L was withdrawn from service and the NISSOS MYKONOS was laid-up for the winter. As the year progrssed, the company had had found itself under an unprecedented turmoil. The THEOFILOS, due to return on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline, was still laid-up, the charter of the MYKONOS ended, the KONSTANTINOS G was abruptly withdrawn from her service on the Mytilene-Dikili line and never returned to operate for NEL Lines (being instead sold to the Equatorial Guinean company Somagec the following year), the AQUA JEWEL suffered an engine failure which kept her laid-up in Lavrion for three months (and thus causing issues regarding the inter-Cycaldes services), the AQUA MARIA was forced to leave the Lavrion-Psara-Chios line several times in order to cover the service left by her engine-plagued fleetmates. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS had been sent on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline, on the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line, while waiting for the THEOFILOS to arrive. However, she herself was due to depart that line ahead of the summer as she had been chartered to Ventouris Ferries for service on the Adriatic Sea, on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line. The TAXIARCHIS had a very troublesome year marked by numerous engine failures, as it was also the case for the EUROPEAN EXPRESS. NEL Lines did try to save the situation on the Northeast Aegean Sea by chartering the Ro-Pax ferry IONIAN SKY of the similarly-financially-troubled Agoudimos Lines. They were due to deploy her on the Piraeus-Lavrion-Psara-Chios-Mytilene line, but she instead went to the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line instead of the THEOFILOS. But her spell there was also very troublesome, as she also went on to have numerous technical issues, delayed and canceled trips, and her season and charter ended prematurely after she had a major engine failure in Mytilene. She was towed to Salamina and remained laid-up there, without ever being reactivated.

While the majority of the fleet of NEL Lines had a disastrous season, only the MYTILENE and the AQUA SPIRIT performed well. The former in particular was praised by the residents of Ikaria and Samos. She operated for 13 months with no interruption, which was quite impressive considering her age and the poor situation of her company. She competed effectively against the NISSOS MYKONOS (even though the latter missed a large portion of the season due to a fire incident in June 2013), but the latter had a much better season, which was considered to be her most successful at the time. Nonetheless, the MYTILENE was much-appreciated even as the year was ending and the need for a proper maintenance became more apparent.

My first-ever picture of the MYTILENE, as she is seen docked in the E2 gate in Piraeus during the summer of 2013, which marked her first season on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line. While I had seen the ship a few times during the 2000s in Piraeus, I never had the chance to take a picture of her until 2013. Fortunately, as I had uploaded this picture on Marine Traffic that year, it was one of the few that I could still access following my computer crash in late 2014. Therefore, I am fortunate to have kept a picture of this legendary ferry, otherwise I would have been inconsolable if all my pictures of the MYTILENE had all disappeared. That unfortunately was not the case with the THEOFILOS, whose only picture that I had taken back in 2012 has disappeared forever.

The MYTILENE seen leaving Piraeus for Syros in 2013. Picture taken by Georgios Mertis and published on

The MYTILENE seen entering the port of Piraeus during the evening in late 2013. Even though she was now 40 years old, the ship still looked sublime and both her indoor and outdoor areas continued to be very impressive. Picture taken by Georgios Mertis and published on

Many hoped that the summer of 2014 would be a summer of redemption for NEL Lines. However, these wishes soon turned into nightmares. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS again experienced several engine failures and delays, thus leaving many passengers livid and unsatisfied. The AQUA MARIA was sent for lay-up without any apparent reason (with her service on the Lavrion-Chios-Psara line not being taken over by another ship even though it was a subsidised service), the TAXIARCHIS and the THEOFILOS (which had returned to the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line in late 2013) also had technical problems, as did the AQUA JEWEL which suffered a new engine failure which definitively ended her NEL Lines career. Even the AQUA SPIRIT (by then the least troublesome ship of the company in terms of technical problems) started to occasionally experience engine troubles. The MYTILENE missed the first half of 2014 as she underwent her refit, and she remained docked in Drapetsona while there were rumours suggesting that her crew was unpaid for many months, and that they ceased all work onboard the ship until they received their salaries. She ultimately resumed service on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line, which had been covered by the EUROPEAN EXPRESS. The troubles faced by the latter were significant, but not worse than the THEOFILOS, which was having a terrible spell on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline. To that end, the EUROPEAN EXPRESS was sent to operate there just as the summer began, and the THEOFILOS was laid-up in Drapetsona, never to sail again for NEL Lines and in general for the rest of her career. The stint of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS on the Northeast Aegean Sea was beyond disastrous. Indeed, a lack of maintenance and the problems faced by the crew caused multiple delays that were even worse than the ones faced by the THEOFILOS. As a result, tourism in Ikaria, Samos, Chios, Lesbos and especially Limnos suffered due to the lack of efficient coastal service connection. Towards the end of the summer season, NEL Lines decided to switch the itineraries of the EUROPEAN EXPRESS and of the MYTILENE, in order to ensure a better connection of the Northeast Aegean Sea Islands. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS as a result returned to the Piraeus-Syros-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line, while the MYTILENE spent the last few days of August on the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria line. She initially started well and finally trips on the lifeline began to operate smoothly. However, the ship then had an engine failure herself, by which time the Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy finally had enough with NEL Lines and stripped them of their operating license and subsidy allowance for service on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline. The services were subsequently taken over by Hellenic Seaways, which connected all islands with Piraeus with larger, younger and more efficient ferries such as the ARIADNE (which had started full-time service on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line in 2014), the NISSOS MYKONOS and later the NISSOS RODOS. Blue Star Ferries also operated the Piraeus-Samos-Chios-Mytilene-Limnos-Kavala line in 2015 with the BLUE STAR 1.

The MYTILENE seen departing the port of Piraeus in 2014, which was her second season on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line. Picture taken by Vangelis Tzerefos and published on

My second and final picture of the MYTILENE, as she is seen docked in Piraeus in 2014. This was her final active year in Greece and under NEL Lines, as she would stop to operate a few months after this picture was taken following an engine failure and the collapse of NEL Lines. As a result, this picture is very meaningful, as it marked my final interaction with the ship while she was still operating. Even as that year was disastrous for NEL Lines, the ship still remained in a fair condition, and her crew did all it could in order to keep her that way, despite her age, her lack of maintenance and the fact that she had been surpassed by younger competitors.

The MYTILENE seen leaving the port of Mytilene in 2014, during her brief spell on the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline, where she was forced to replace the EUROPEAN EXPRESS which was having a very poor spell there. She was the last ship of NEL Lines to operate on this lifeline, as the company was expelled from there by the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy. Picture published on

With NEL Lines gone from the Thessaloniki-Kavala-Limnos-Mytilene-Chios-Samos-Ikaria lifeline, the MYTILENE was inactive for a few weeks, until she made her return to the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Samos line after the EUROPEAN EXPRESS continued to experience numerous engine problems. The latter was sent for lay-up in Drapetsona next to the THEOFILOS and, just like her fleetmate, never returned to service again. With all these ships being laid-up, NEL Lines now only had three ferries operating, namely the MYTILENE on the aforementioned service in Ikaria and in Samos, the AQUA SPIRIT on her inter-Cyclades lifeline, and the TAXIARCHIS on the Lavrion-Psara-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala line. The financial woes of the company grew worse as the end of the year approached, its reputation had been severely damaged on the Northeast Aegean Sea, and therefore passengers preferred traveling on the trustworthy and reliable ships of Hellenic Seaways and Blue Star Ferries. It was only a matter of time for the company to stop operating altogether. Despite these setbacks, the MYTILENE and her other two fleetmates continued to operate, and did the best they could despite the difficult conditions of the company.

The MYTILENE seen in Piraeus during an evening in late 2014. She is about to load passengers and vehicles in order to head to the five islands that she was serving in the last trips of her career. Picture taken by Sakis Antoniou and published on

The MYTILENE seen departing the port of Piraeus during the evening in November 2014, during the last weeks of her active career. While she continued to operate extremely well, little did she know that she would be performing her final trips due to her company's negligence and poor financial condition. Picture taken by Roy Batty and published on

The MYTILENE seen docked in Piraeus in 2015, just a few days before she stopped sailing. Picture taken by Dimitris Mentakis and published on

While the MYTILENE was still operating as 2015 began, she unexpectedly ended her services (and her career as a whole) in February of that year, when her main engine broke down while she was docked in Samos, in the port of Karlovasi. The remaining trip was canceled, and the ship eventually remained stuck in the island, as NEL Lines could not afford to tow her back to Piraeus, let alone repair her. Hopes for a short stay in Samos quickly vanished, and the ship was now fully abandoned by the company which had invested significantly in her just 25 years prior. Furthermore, her crew remained unpaid for many months, and she was subsequently arrested while remaining with a broken engine in Samos. As the months progressed, the ship no longer had available fuel for heating and lighting, and this left the crew under very miserable conditions, as they could also not access food provisions. NEL Lines fully neglected these unfortunate people and did not provide them any help, nor their salaries. As a result, their arduous conditions in Samos were significantly covered by the media, which notably showed the signs that they put on the ship's stern, whereupon they stated that they were hungry and penniless. At some point, they were only able to receive food and water from the army base that was located near the port! These were horrible moments for these people, and it was a shame that they were associated with a ship which had previously operated with so much success and practically no trouble for more than two decades, even when her company was no longer dedicated and among the top ones in Greece.

The MYTILENE seen laid-up in the port of Karlovasi in Samos, where she ceased operating due to a major engine failure and the subsequent arrest performed by her demoralised crew in 2015. Picture taken by Panagiotis Marinakis and published on

A view of the stern of the MYTILENE during her lay-up in Samos, with the crew having added three notable signs which were then displayed across all media in Greece. The one on the left side of her garage and on the port side states, in Greek, 'We are hostages of the State and of shipowners'. The one in the middle over the garage and right underneath the ship's name states 'We are hungry', while the one above says 'We will fight until the end'. These were very sad scenes unworthy of a ferry company in Greece. Picture published on

While the MYTILENE remained laid-up in Samos, NEL Lines still had two more ships under operation, but even they could not avoid the impending end. Indeed, a few months later, the TAXIARCHIS and the AQUA SPIRIT stopped service multiple times due to their crews remaining unpaid for months as well. The company still did not have the funds to solve the issue, and as a result both ships were arrested permanently in Lavrion and caused huge problems to the lines that they were serving. Eventually, NEL Lines was also ousted from the last two lifelines on which they operating. These were also taken over by Hellenic Seaways. This as a result marked the official end of the operations of NEL Lines, just before the start of the summer of 2015. The company's ships were all laid-up and were never reactivated for the once-glorious Lesbos-based maritime power, which had vanished after 42 years of operations in the Greek coastal service. However, its last 15 years had severely damaged the company's reputation, and therefore very few people lamented its closure. This was also due to the quick and effective transition that Hellenic Seaways performed in its operations on the Northeast Aegean Sea, as all its ships operated extremely well and therefore frequent passengers traveling in the area quickly forgot the troubles brought over by NEL Lines. The service of the MYTILENE in Ikaria and in Samos was covered by the NISSOS MYKONOS (which continues to serve these islands as part of her long itinerary along the Northeast Aegean Sea lifeline, as the BLUE STAR MYCONOS of Blue Star Ferries) and the NISSOS RODOS, which was replaced in 2018 by the DIAGORAS of Blue Star Ferries. The Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, formerly the uninvadable territory of NEL Lines and the flagship service of the company on which the MYTILENE operated for 20 years, has been served since 2018 by the NISSOS RODOS and the NISSOS SAMOS, also of Hellenic Seaways. These two Japanese-built ferries are among the largest ferries of the Aegean Sea, and both serve the two islands with much success, hence carrying on the legacy left by the former flagship of NEL Lines.

After spending more than a year under lay-up in Samos, the MYTILENE finally left the island under tow, in order to head to the Elefsina Bay. While her crew received their long-awaited salaries under the protection of the Navy Retirement Fund and the Panhellenic Seamen's Federation, the ship still carried enormous debts and the company could still not afford to repair her broken engine. To that end, she simply left Samos in order to continue her lay-up in the Elefsina Bay. She was placed alongside another historic ferry which was forced into lay-up due to her own company's financial issues. Indeed, this was the legendary PENELOPE A of Agoudimos Lines, one of the greatest ships to have ever operated on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, which had been sent for lay-up in the Elefsina Bay in 2014, a few months after having been arrested in Rafina following her company's closure. The two iconic ferries, once among the most acclaimed ships of the Greek coastal service for more than two decades, were now docked together while awaiting their fates, with the prospects of a return to service seeming like a miracles as the years went by.

The MYTILENE seen laid-up in the Elefsina Bay next to the PENELOPE A in late 2016. This is where the ship would go on to remain for the next six years. Once the acclaimed ship of the Northeast Aegean Sea, the MYTILENE was now a mere shadow of the incredible ferry that she used to be, having been neglected by the same company which had previously invested huge amounts in order to provide passengers heading to Chios, Mytilene, Limnos and Thessaloniki with an unforgettable experience onboard. Picture published on

With NEL Lines no longer active, their ships went on to await their eventual fates. Some were luckier, whereas others are still laid-up, while others like the MYTILENE spent several years of misery before finally giving in to the torch-breakers. The MYKONOS had joined Creta Cargo Lines in 2014 and was renamed TALOS, the AQUA JEWEL temporarily rejoined Alpha Ferries and returned to service in 2017 after having been bought by Sea Jets. The latter had also bought the AQUA SPIRIT and the CYCLADES EXPRESS in early 2016, and reactivated them for service on the Cyclades. The AQUA MARIA was bought by Aqua Ferries, was again renamed MYRTIDIOTISSA and entered service on the Sporades in 2016 (later becoming the ALEXANDRA L of the now-inactive Kefalonian Lines in 2018). The PANAGIA THALASSINI returned to Greece after having been bought by Idomeneas Lines (owned by the Panagiotopoulos family) and being renamed KALLI P, but never re-entered service due to debts owed by NEL Lines. The PANAGIA PAROU remained laid-up in Algeciras until sinking inside the port in 2017, eventually being refloated and sold for scrap to Turkey in 2018. The EUROPEAN EXPRESS remained laid-up in Perama after having shifted there from Drapetsona in 2016, and was ultimately sold for scrap to Turkey in 2019. She was followed a year later by the IONIAN SKY, which had remained laid-up in Salamina since her withdrawal from service at the end of the 2013 season. The high speed craft ALKIONI remained laid-up in Salamina for eight years until she began preparations for a return to service under a new owner, ultimately performing a vast refit in order to enter service on the Sporades once again, as the CAT I of Magic Sea Ferries (she is due to be deployed on the Agios Konstantinos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line next year). The AEOLOS KENTERIS I and AEOLOS KENTERIS II have remained in Salamina for years and are progressively becoming more assimilated to the scrapyards despite their young age, while the AEOLOS KENTERIS headed to Augusta in Italy in order to start a service under charter to a Maltese company on the Augusta-Valletta line, but financial and continued technical issues faced by the ship resulted in her seizure by the Augusta Port Authority, and she has remained laid-up and now partly submerged in the Sicilian port. The TAXIARCHIS was laid-up in Lavrion from 2015 to 2018 and is now also in Salamina awaiting her fate, having also been partly submerged in recent years. The THEOFILOS had a troublesome time in Drapetsona and was finally towed to the Elefsina Bay in 2017, remaining permanently laid-up there and not far from her fleetmate and long-time partner, namely the MYTILENE. She then moved to Salamina in 2021, being docked next to the TAXIARCHIS, after the Elefsina Port Authority successfully called for her removal from the area. All ferries were placed on auction, but the attempts to have them sold and removed from the Piraeus area failed for the most part, with only the older conventional ferries heading for scrap. Over the next six years, I would frequently spot the MYTILENE from afar while driving on the coastline of Elefsina while heading to and from the Peloponnese. Whenever I had the occasion to see the ship, I would usually look at her with much regret, as she no longer was the great ferry that was beloved by Greek coastal service enthusiasts, and I would usually longer how long she will be staying there before she would eventually head for demolition. The last time that I saw the ship was on 8 September 2021, while I was heading back to Athens from Rion and Patras where I had spent the day looking at various ships that were operating there. As I could only spot her from afar, I was not able to take a picture of her, therefore the only ones that I had of the ship were during her final two operational seasons in 2013 and in 2014.

In May 2022, after more than seven years of lay-up, it was reported that the MYTILENE had been sold for scrap. She was renamed LENE and was reflagged to Togo, being registered in Lomé. She therefore followed the same practices that were undertaken on the THEOFILOS, which was renamed and reflagged in a similar fashion, having her name shortened to ILOS and flying the Togolese flag. The ferry left Salamina on 13 May 2022, heading to Turkey after 47 years of service, of which 27 had been under the ownership of NEL Lines. Just more than two weeks later, the MYTILENE, now known as the LENE, left the Elefsina Bay under tow for the first time in six years. She was performing her first trip in as many years, but also the last of her career, which lasted 49 years, of which 32 were spent in Greece. She happened to leave 30 years after she first began operations under NEL Lines, after having spent two years under conversion in Perama. The ship is now in Aliağa in Turkey, having been beached a few metres away from her former fleetmate, and will now belong to history. The day that she left Greece for the last time was filled with tributes, as many remembered the ship and her iconic career, and kept fond memories of her despite her decline after her engine failure back in 2015. While reactions to the departure of the THEOFILOS were mixed due to the ship's frequent troubles from 2004 onwards, those for the MYTILENE were much more positive and emotional. Notably, a few inhabitants of Lesbos went to see her while she was being towed to Aliağa and was passing by the island for the last time. They reminisced the thousands of trips that the ship had done while heading to and from Mytilene, which she served loyally and with great success for 20 years, even during the declining performance of NEL Lines. The latter therefore lost its greatest-ever ship (and also the longest-serving ship in the company's history, having been owned by them for 32 years even though she did not sail for the final 7 years), and the only ships that are lefts as remnants of the company (even though it has remained inactive since 2015) are the AEOLOS KENTERIS I, the AEOLOS KENTERIS II and the TAXIARCHIS in Greece, as well as the AEOLOS KENTERIS which is languishing and partly-submerged in Augusta. While it is almost certain that the 46-year-old TAXIARCHIS will likely follow the MYTILENE and the THEOFILOS to the scrapyards, some may still hope for a reactivation of the three high speed craft, as they are only between 21 and 22 years old, respectively. However, their long history of technical issues and their lengthy lay-ups which have now lasted for more than a decade, will probably fail to attract any interested investor. Indeed, the fact that even Sea Jets, which has been known to purchase high speed craft that had previously spent many years of lay-up in both Greece and overseas, has not even considered acquiring them, shows that there are many hurdles along the way which make their reactivation worthless. As such, they are also very likely to head to the scrapyards too, and therefore this would mark the end of the three problematic ships that are generally viewed as one of the major causes of the decline and the eventual demise of NEL Lines. While one would believe that technological progress at the time would result in the Northeast Aegean Sea being linked with high speed craft, ultimately the area simply required ships like the MYTILENE in order to ensure a healthy and effective connection with the rest of Greece.

In a career that lasted for almost five decades, the MYTILENE became one of the most successful ships to have ever operated in Greece, and she is widely seen as the best ship to have ever operated for NEL Lines, as well as one of the greatest ferries to have operated on the Northeast Aegean Sea. After a very successful career in Japan, she arrived in Greece with much fanfare as a worthy successor of the HOMERUS, and she delivered to her company with great success for more than 20 years. Even as she became older and NEL Lines began its downhill path, the ship never disappointed anyone and she continued to compete effectively against much modern ferries that were brought by Hellenic Seaways and Blue Star Ferries, although she would later prove to be unable to match the services of these vessels. Nevertheless, she became a beloved ship on the Northeast Aegean Sea to the same extent as the SAPPHO, with whom she operated successfully for 10 years, although most believe that she surpassed her elder former fleetmate due to her more impressive areas and her faster speed. She also remained the preferred ship over the THEOFILOS (despite the latter replacing her as the flagship of NEL Lines) as well as over the faster high speed craft that joined the company in the early 2000s. She will be remembered for her very comfortable service and her impressive onboard amenities, most notably her beautiful indoor lounge areas, her nice passenger cabins, her onboard restaurants and most notably her outdoor deck areas and balconies, which gave passengers the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful trip on the Aegean Sea. Her speed was also noteworthy and remained consistent for the most part, until her advanced age and improper maintenance in the early 2010s slowed her down. Overall, her longevity and the great captains that commanded her made her a legend of the Greek coastal service, just like her sister ship, namely the iconic RODANTHI. As such, the two ships are considered to be one of the best pairs of sister ships to have ever operated in Greece, as they both propelled their respective companies to great success and dominance on the Aegean Sea, and were among the most impressive ships of the early 1990s. However, one may suggest, that, in the case of the MYTILENE, NEL Lines became the victims of her success. Indeed, having seen how valuable the ship was, they sought to further enhance their presence on the Aegean Sea, but this resulted in mostly poor investments (most notably the three high speed craft) and deployments in areas where other companies had been established for many years and could not be disposed of. As such, the turbulent years of the company during the 2000s caused economic problems, and they were ironically displaced from their own service in which they had been operating practically unopposed for 40 years by the same companies that they had tried to outperform on the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese or the Adriatic Sea. Even while they made a desperate attempt to improve their fleet and expand their operations in 2010 and in 2011, the problems persisted, and all the ships were progressively laid-up, including the MYTILENE after her engine failure in Samos in 2015. Some wonder whether she could still be sailing today had she been sold in the 2010s to a more serious company that would have looked after her more carefully, especially when considering the fact that many ferries built in the 1970s continue to operate in Greece despite reaching or nearing 50 years of service.

Altogether, I believe that the ship leaves Greece at a proper moment, having suffered for many years and being left completely abandoned for a long time. Her last seven years clearly do not represent her career, as she will always be remembered for her incredibly successful trips on the Piraeus-Chios-Mytilene line, and she is a symbol of the Northeast Aegean Sea. I was fortunate to see her many times in Piraeus while she was still enjoying happier days, although I never had the opportunity to travel with her due to having never been on the Northeast Aegean Sea. But I will still keep many memories of the ship, as will the thousands of passengers that traveled with her frequently to Chios and Lesbos, where her status as a legend will never change. She brought them many great moments, and helped them stay linked with the rest of Greece despite their remoteness. Therefore, from the bottom of my heart, MYTILENE, I would like to thank you for your unique, acclaimed and dignified contribution to the Greek coastal service. You will be very missed, that is certain.

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