Goodbye RIGEL I
The RIGEL I seen docked in the port of Zakynthos in 2017, during her first season in which she connected the islands of the Ionian Sea with Italy.
This Blog post comes a few days after some rumours that were circulating on the Internet were confirmed, regarding the fact that the cruiseferry RIGEL I of Ventouris Ferries was sold for scrap to the Indian coastal city of Alang. Indeed, on 5 September 2021, she departed the port of Aegion as the ROGER, sailing on her own without needing to be towed all the way to India. This moment therefore brought an end to a ship that operated for 48 years, including her last 14 under the famed Greek company. And more specifically, with the exception of the 2021 season during which she was laid-up in Aegion and was then sold for scrap, the RIGEL I spent her entire spell under Ventouris Ferries on the Adriatic Sea, becoming one of the most prominent ships that connected Italy with Greece and with Albania.
In almost five full decades of service, the RIGEL I had a very eventful career, having had 11 different names and having operated under 10 different companies and in various parts of the world. Indeed, while the bulk of her career was spent on the Baltic Sea under ownerships from companies based in Finland, Sweden, the former Soviet Union, Estonia and Latvia, she also had a spell on the Caribbean Sea, on the Alboran Sea, and finally on the Adriatic Sea. Overall, her stays under all these different owners varied, as she would cement her place under some, while having irregular services under others, and on a few occasions her owners had to cease operations. She also failed to operate under two of her companies in two different occasions, including when she was sold to Turkish company Euro7, right before she joined Ventouris Ferries. Under the latter, despite being over 35 years old, she managed to provide very good service on the Adriatic Sea from 13 years. She initially operated solely on the Bari-Durrës line from 2007 to 2016, hence she would not directly call in Greece unless she would undergo her annual refit. Although this service is known for being one of the most competitive ones on the Adriatic Sea, she always performed well, despite being much smaller than other vessels and the Greek financial crisis impacting Greek shipping companies operating in the region. She first operated simply as the RIGEL, before being renamed RIGEL I in 2013 as she changed her port of registry. Following the arrival of larger fleetmates and the successful deployment of her previous Bari-Durrës line, partner, the BARI, on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corf-Bari line, in 2015, the RIGEL I went on to join her in 2017, performing extremely well there as well. She remained present until the 2020 season, during which her service was restricted to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line as a result of decreasing passenger demand and the arrival of a much larger and modern vessel, namely the RIGEL VII. Because of this, the ship, which was also the oldest one of her company for several years, was no longer deemed useful for service, and, with scrap prices being at excellent levels in late 2021, Ventouris Ferries found the good opportunity to sell her and the BARI for demolition.
Unlike most ferries, fortunately the RIGEL I managed to have a rather good career and did not have a miserable end, which would have been spending many years under lay-up or suffering from a major accident that would have forced her to end her services prematurely. Instead, she kept on sailing even at the age of 47, and it was only the arrival of a newer and larger vessel and higher scrap prices that forced her into retirement. Otherwise, one could definitely have imagined her continuing to sail. After all, she was praised for her passenger amenities, including her indoor lounge areas, cabins and food and catering areas. These were deemed to be her major attributes and made her trips more enjoyable in spite of her age. However, one of her disadvantages was her small garage, which after some point proved unable to cover the required vehicle capacity, hence Ventouris Ferries (or even most of her former owners in Northern Europe for that matter) buying larger ferries such as the RIGEL II in 2015 and later the RIGEL VII in 2019.
Just like all Ship Farewell Tribute posts that I have done in the past, this Blog post covers the entire history of the RIGEL I, from her career on the Baltic Sea, on the Caribbean Sea and on the Alboran Sea, until her final moments before making her long trip to Alang. I only got to see her once in my life, and that was during the summer of 2017, when I happened to be in the port of Zakynthos at the same time during which she was moored, during what was her first summer on the Ionian Sea. At least I was able to see her while she was still active and sailing, unlike other cases such as the EUROPEAN EXPRESS of NEL Lines or the IONIAN SKY of Agoudimos Lines.
The ferry that went on to become the RIGEL I was ordered back in 1969, by the Finnish company Oy Siljavarustamo, which was the daughter company used by the collaboration of three major companies linking Sweden with Finland on the Baltic Sea: the Finnish companies Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget (known in the English world as the Finnish Steamship Company, later renamed Effoa in 1976) and Bore Line, and the Swedish company Rederi AB Svea. The collaboration between the two Finnish companies traces back to 1904, while Rederi AB Svea joined in 1928. All three companies served the Stockholm-Turku line and later the Stockholm-Helsinki line. The Oy Siljavarustamo brandname was established in 1957, when the companies realised that the ferry industry in Europe was booming, and that they would need to further collaborate by deploying ferries on the Baltic Sea. This became a reality in the early 1960s when Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget deployed the first-ever purpose-built ferries for the Baltic Sea, namely the SKANDIA in 1961 and her sister ship, the NORDIA (later the THEOSKEPASTI of Pyrgi Chios Shipping company from 1986 until her destruction by a fire in 1987), in 1962. Both ships were inserted on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Turku line, and immediately won the acclaim of the Baltic Sea passengers. As a result of the increasing demand, the three companies quickly expanded their fleet, with Rederi AB Svea bringing the four-year-old HOLMIA (the ex-PRINS BERTIL of the Swedish company Lion Ferry) in 1965 on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Långnäs-Turku line. They then ordered two new vessels under Bore Line: the FENNIA in 1966 and the BOTNIA (later the CIUDAD DE LA LAGUNA of the Spanish company Trasmediterránea, and later the VOLCÁN DE TENAGUA of fellow Spanish giants Naviera Armas) in 1967. Bore Line additionally ordered a sister ship of the BOTNIA, the FLORIA (later the VILLA DE AGAETE of Trasmediterránea and then the CARMEN DEL MAR of the Spanish company Iscomar), which was introduced on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Helsinki line in 1970. That same year, with three other rival companies (Rederi Ab Vikinglinjen, Rederi AB Slite and Rederi Ab Ålandsfärjan) having formed the Finnish giants Viking Line in 1967, Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget, Bore Line and Rederi AB Svea decided to form a similar corporate structure and formally launched Silja Line, a new coalition for their ferries connecting Sweden with Finland. While all vessels would be painted under a common livery, their funnels would maintain the logos of each company in order to indicate the real owner of each ferry. The fleet continued to expand, with the arrival of several Ro-Ro carriers under Bore Line, including the new HOLMIA built in 1971 (which replaced the original HOLMIA which was sold to the Italian company Navigazione Toscana). The next ships that were delivered to the company, as a result of the increasing company, were the newly-built sister ships AALLOTAR (later the ROGALIN of Polish company Polferries and the CELTIC PRIDE of Swansea Cork Ferries) and SVEA REGINA (which had spells in Greece, first as the MEDITERRANEAN SUN of Karageorgis Lines from 1979 to 1982 and then as the ODYSSEAS ELYTIS of NEL Lines from 1982 to 1985) of Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget, which were deployed on the Stockholm-Helsinki line in 1972.
At the same time, the construction of the future RIGEL I was still in progress, being monitored by Bore Line which was anticipating to deploy her on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Turku line under the Silja Line brandname. She was launched in late 1972 and was completed in early 1973 at the Wärstilä Ab Turku Shipyard in Turku in Finland. She began service as the BORE I on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Turku line, replacing the older passenger-only vessel BIRGER JARL. She was registered in Turku and flew the Finnish flag. She became the third ship in the history of the company to be named BORE I, the first having been a steamship that operated from 1901 to 1916 and then from 1927 to 1961, and the second one having been a small ferry that operated on the Stockholm-Mariehamn line from 1962 to 1968. Bore Line had also deployed, under the Silja Line brandname, the small ferry BORE (later the cruise ship KRISTINA REGINA of the Finnish company Kristina Cruies, now the floating hotel BORE). The BORE I did not have a sister ship, however her design was largely inspired by that of the FENNIA. She notably had a bulbous bow, which was uncommon for ice-class vessels serving the Baltic Sea at the time. She also included several cabins, a restaurant, a self-service area, as well as a swimming pool and a disco bar, which were brand new features onboard ferries at the time. In the first two years of her career, the BORE I was also one of the largest ferries operating in Northern Europe. Her entry to service was quickly praised and she provided a solution to the ever-growing number of passengers willing to travel between Sweden, the Åland Islands Archipelago and Finland.
The BORE I seen arriving in Mariehamn in 1973, during her debut season under Silja Line. Her two funnels carried the livery of Bore Line. Picture taken as an official photograph by Silja Line and published on www.simplonpc.co.uk.
The BORE I seen sailing on the Baltic Sea, at the very start of her career. Picture taken by Folke Österman and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The BORE I seen arriving in Stockholm in 1975, at the very start of her lengthy career. Picture taken by Micke Aleksander and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Just 2-3 years into the start of the career of the BORE I, traffic on the Baltic Sea kept on soaring, and as a result smaller ships such as the SKANDIA and the NORDIA were considered too small and outdated to operate on the connection between Sweden and Finland. They were therefore sold in 1974 to the Venezuelan company Naviera Oriental. The BOTNIA was also sold in 1975, to the Spanish company Trasmediterránea. As a replacement, Silja Line ordered three new vessels, for the Stockholm-Helsinki line. All of them were far larger and faster than their predecessors. These were the SVEA CORONA (later the unfortunate cruise ship PEGASUS of the Greek company Epirotiki Lines) the WELLAMO (later the DANA GLORIA/KING OF SCANDINAVIA of DFDS Seaways and Scandinavian Seaways, and subsequently the COLOR VIKING of the Norwegian company Color Line and the JUPITER of the Norwegian company Fjord Line), which were delivered in 1975. They were followed by the BORE STAR (later the SILJA STAR and then the ORIENT EXPRESS of the British conglomerate Sealink). The SVEA CORONA was deployed by Rederi AB Svea, the WELLAMO was deployed by Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget and the BORE STAR was inserted by Bore Line. Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget became known as Effoa in 1976. During that same year, the BORE I, which was unaffected by the fleet changes, ran aground near Stockholm. While no injuries were reported, she needed to be towed to the Finnboda Shipyard in Nacka (just outside of Stockholm), and, upon her entry to the drydock, she began to list. Fortunately she was repaired and resumed service after one month. She also encountered a few mechanical issues in 1978, but these did not impact her services to such an extent. Altogether, she continued to provide good service, being partnered with the AALLOTAR and the SVEA REGINA until they both departed the fleet of Silja Line in 1978. Her other partner for the two years that followed was the FENNIA.
In 1979, in response to the newbuilding plans of Viking Line, Effoa and Rederi AB Svea announced the order of two new cruiseferries, which would become the largest ferries in the world upon their entry to service. Bore Line, however, decided not to join the project, and eventually decided to leave Silja Line in order to focus on its freight services provided by its Ro-Ro carriers. As a result, its two passenger ferries were transferred to Effoa, namely the BORE I and the BORE STAR. They were renamed SKANDIA and SILJA STAR, respectively, and were both registered in Helsinki. The SILJA STAR also went on to join the SKANDIA on the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Turku line. In the meantime, the new ships of the company, the FINLANDIA (the current MOBY DADA of the Italian company Moby Lines) and the SILVIA REGINA (which was operating up until 2020 as the STENA SAGA of Stena Line), were added to the Stockholm-Helsinki line in 1981.
The SKANDIA seen on the Baltic Sea in 1980, shortly after her name change and her transfer from Bore Line to Effoa, whose colours she now bore in her two funnels. Picture taken by David Mandt and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
A view of the SKANDIA (on the right) alongside her fleetmate, the SILJA STAR, in the port of Turku in 1981. This was a year after the two vessels left Bore Line in order to join Effoa, although they remained under the management of Silja Line. Picture taken by Timo Hirvi and published on www.flickr.com.
The introduction of the FINLANDIA and of the SILVIA REGINA proved to be a massive success, and Silja Line further asserted its reputation on the Baltic Sea, despite fierce competition from Viking Line. In 1981, the company underwent another structural change, as Rederi AB Svea was taken over by the Swedish company Johnson Line, which was now collaborating with Effoa. Seeing the success of the two new cruiseferries on the Stockholm-Helsinki line, the two companies decided to order a further pair of sister ships to be delivered in 1985 and 1986, respectively, for service on the Stockholm-Turku line. These ferries would turn out to be the SVEA (later the SILJA KARNEVAL, then the COLOR FESTIVAL of Color Line, and today the MEGA SMERALDA of Corsica Ferries-Sardinia Ferries) and the new WELLAMO (later the SILJA FESTIVAL, and today the MEGA ANDREA of Corsica Ferries-Sardinia Ferries). As a result of their deployment, the SKANDIA and the SILJA STAR would be sold due to their smaller size compared to the new vessels. The former also spent one month in early 1983 under charter to Norwegian company Larvik-Frederikshavnferjen (later renamed Larvik Line in 1984), and operated on the Frederikshavn-Larnik line, hence linking Denmark with Norway via the Skagerrak. She then returned to the Stockholm-Mariehamn-Turku line for the 1983 summer season. After the latter ended, the SKANDIA, now 10 years old, was sold to the Swedish company Stena Line. She headed to Gothenburg in early October 1983 in order to undergo a refit and to be deployed on the Frederikshavn-Moss line for her new owners. She was renamed STENA BALTICA, becoming the third ship in the history of the company to have that name. The second one happened to be the ex-FINNPARTNER of the Finnish company Finnlines, which operated under Stena Line from 1978 to 1982, before becoming well-known in Greek waters as the legendary IALYSSOS of the defunct company DANE Sea Line from 1982 to 2002. In addition to her new name, the new STENA BALTICA now flew the Bahamian flag and was registered in Nassau.
The STENA BALTICA seen in Gothenburg, shortly after being acquired by Stena Line in 1983. While the livery of Silja Line was removed, the ship had not yet been repainted in the colours of Stena Line. Picture taken by Bertil Söderberg and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Just as the STENA BALTICA was due to begin her conversion in order to begin service under Stena Line, the latter immediately sold her to another operator. This was deemed as a tactic performed by the company as they saw that the ship's price remained quite high considering her age and her good condition, hence they would be able to make a profit by selling her to a company willing to pay a higher fee in order to have her deployed on the more demanding services of the Baltic Sea. This was mainly due to her status as an ice class 1A vessel, which caught the attention of one company in particular. Indeed, this was the Soviet state-owned company Baltic Shipping Company. Founded in 1922, it operated an enormous fleet of cargo vessels based out of the Baltic Sea, as well as passenger ships linking the former Soviet Union with Finland, Sweden, as well as Germany. The company was based in St Petersburg, which was then known as Leningrad. Anticipating a rise in ferry transportation between the Soviet Union and the Scandinavian countries in the 1980s, the company built a new passenger terminal in the city's port, which was completed in late 1982. Along with the new terminal, they then sought to purchase cruiseferries that would provide a comfortable service, including during the night. To that end, the company ordered the ferry KONSTANTIN SIMONOV (later the cruise ship KRISTINA KATARINA of Kristina Cruises), which was part of the Dmitry Shostakovich-class built in Poland. This new ship was delivered to the company in 1982, and was deployed on the Helsinki-St Petersburg line. Aiming to expand their services to Sweden, they then bought the STENA BALTICA which was still docked in Gothenburg.
Beginning in late October 1983, the vessel started undergoing her conversion for her new owners, who renamed her ILICH, which is a typical Russian surname. She was registered in St Petersburg (then Leningrad), and she underwent an extensive refit altogether. Her indoor areas were upgraded, and she notably saw her front funnel being removed, whereas the one in the back was heightened and was equipped with new exhaust pipes.
The ILICH seen in Gothenburg, while undergoing her conversion under the Baltic Shipping Company in late 1983. This was one of the final pictures which depicted the ship with her two funnels, prior to the front one being removed. Picture taken by Bertil Söderberg and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Just before the 1984 summer season began, the newly-refurbished ILICH began operations on the Stockholm-St Petersburg line, hence marking the connection between Sweden and the former Soviet Union (today Russia). Her services were once again deemed very successful, with her passenger amenities being praised by passengers at the time. Her services on the Stockholm-St Petersburg line were rebranded by the company as ScanSov Line. With passenger numbers increasing, the company continued to remain successful, and its operational structure was further enhanced by the perestroika reforms introduced by the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who gave shipping companies less state control and more financial flexibility.
A scan (of rather mediocre quality) featuring the ILICH while she sails on the Baltic Sea near the Russian coast in 1985, while featuring the livery of the ScanSov Line division under which she was assigned by the Baltic Shipping Company. Picture taken by Gena Anfimov and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The ILICH seen in 1987 in Stockholm, as she continued to serve the Stockholm-St Petersburg line. The latter was written on both sides of her hull from 1986 to 1991. Picture taken by Micke Aleksander and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
As the ILICH continued to provide good service thanks to the Baltic Sea continuing to experience a substantial rise in ferry traffic, her company made some significant changes to its corporate identity in late 1991, as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Indeed, it was placed under Russian independent management (going from a partly-state-owned company to a privatised enterprise) and was rebranded as Baltic Line. In addition, it bought a new cruiseferry that would connect Russia with Sweden as well as Germany, via the Kiel-Nynäshamn-St Petersburg line. This ship turned out to be the 1980-built BRAEMAR of Norwegian company Fred. Olsen Lines, which was also the ex-VIKING SONG of Viking Line from 1980 to 1985. She was therefore a former rival of the ILICH back when the latter operated as the SKANDIA under Silja Line, although the VIKING SONG was on the Stockholm-Helsinki line. After being temporarily renamed BALTICA, she eventually started her new service under Baltic Line as the ANNA KARENINA in late 1991, hence becoming the third ferry of the company. The ILICH also began to stop by the port of Riga in the newly-independent Latvia, hence she was now operating on the Stockholm-Riga-St Petersburg line. She stayed in this service until 1995, when she changed her Swedish port of call from Stockholm to Nynäshamn. She was therefore serving the Nynäshamn-Riga-St Petersburg line during that year.
The ILICH seen departing the port of Stockholm in order to head towards Riga and St Petersburg during the summer of 1992, which was her first under the livery of Baltic Line. As a result of the company's name change, the ship's funnel changed. Having previously featured the colours and the flag of the Soviet Union, it was now depicting the flag of the Russian Federation. Picture taken by Lee Brown and published on www.shipspotting.com.
A view of the ILICH as she is seen leaving the port of St Petersburg in 1994. Picture taken by Bo Friberg and published on www.shipspotting.com.
As the 1990s progressed and competition kept on growing on the Baltic Sea, the ILICH was able to maintain her above-quality services. However, Baltic Line began to experience serious difficulties which eventually led to its demise. Its owner was arrested in 1993 due to fund mismanagement and fraud. Although he was later cleared of all charges, the company's reputation was significantly affected. In addition to the emerging financial crisis experienced by Russia, the company's freight division also began to suffer from losses. Moreover, Baltic Line made the decision to operate in the cruise industry, by operating the veteran cruise ship BALTICA (formerly the DANAE of the Greek company Delian Artemis Cruises) on the Baltic Sea and the Norwegian Fjords from 1994 to 1996. This service was not successful and resulted in additional losses. As a result, in early 1996, the company found itself unable to repay debts owed to suppliers and port authorities, and all its vessels were seized by the latter. The ILICH was laid-up in Stockholm for the whole year as a result. The ANNA KARENINA was laid-up in Hamburg, whereas the ANTONIN SIMONOV was arrested in Kiel. As a result of this, the ferry service between St Petersburg and the rest of Europe came to a halt.
The ILICH seen laid-up in Stockholm in 1996, following the demise of Baltic Line. Picture taken by Per Jensen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
While Baltic Line ceased to exist as a company, its management nevertheless attempted to reactivate the three ships under a new enterprise that would have them registered under offshore companies that would reduce the debts owed by the former owners. The ANNA KARENINA was temporarily sold to Empremare Shipping Company, an offshore company based in Cyprus, which renamed her ANNA K. She was subsequently re-sold to the Estonian company Estline (the future owners of the ILICH) in 1996, and began service for them as the REGINA BALTICA on the Stockholm-Tallinn line. Some of the proceeds from the sale went to the former management of Baltic Line. The ILICH was sold at auction Penomi Shipping Company, a Maltese beneficiary of ScanSov Transport, which was the new entity of Baltic Line. She was renamed ANASTASIA V and was registered in Limassol, hence carrying the flag of Cyprus. With new funds seemingly secured, the ship left Stockholm after 10 months of lay-up, and headed to Turku in order to undergo a refit that would see her reactivated back on the Stockholm-St Petersburg line. She underwent an extensive overhaul, during which she had her bow slightly modified, whereas her machinery and indoor areas were fully refitted. Despite this considerable refurbishment, financial issues faced by the company persisted, and they were unable to repay the shipyard at the requested time. As a result of this, the ANASTASIA V was once again seized and remained laid-up in Turku in early 1997, with her conversion remaining incomplete.
The ANASTASIA V seen laid-up in Turku in 1997, after her owners failed to pay the debts they owed to the shipyard. The ship continued to feature the name of Baltic Line on both sides of her hull, whereas her funnel featured the initials of Penomi Shipping Company. Picture taken by Tapio Karvonen and published on www.shipspotting.com.
As the ANASTASIA V continued to remain laid-up in Turku just before the 1997 summer season was to begin, she managed to find a new owner that would be able to cover all remaining liabilities and reactivate her after almost two years of inactivity. This company turned out to be one that was not based in Europe, but rather from St Vincent and the Grenadines! Indeed, it was Windward Lines, a company that was founded in order to establish a ferry connection between Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea Islands. As such, the ANASTASIA V was purchased as she was deemed fit to perform such a lengthy trip. With her refurbishment complete, she was renamed WINDWARD PRIDE and was registered in Kingstown, which meant that she was now carrying the flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines. She left Europe in May 1997 and arrived on the Caribbean Sea a month later, and she was then deployed on the Puerto La Cruz-Margarita-Port of Spain-Bridgetown-Kingstown-Castries-Santo Domingo line. As such, she connected Venezuela with Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and the Dominican Republic. However, the service quickly proved to be unsustainable, and as a result her operations ended after only 3 months.
The WINDWARD PRIDE seen departing the port of Turku in order to head to the Caribbean Sea, where she would begin operations under Windward Lines in 1997. Picture taken by Tapio Karvonen and published on www.shipspotting.com.
Despite ending her services prematurely and once again being laid-up due to her owners not making the necessary profits, the WINDWARD PRIDE did not have to wait for a long time in order to find a new role. Indeed, she would go on to make a comeback on the Baltic Sea, as she was sold to the Estonian company Estline in September 1997. The latter company was established in 1990, as a partnership between the Estonian-Swedish shipowner Hans Laidwa and the Swedish company Nordström & Thulin, who sought to operate a ferry between Sweden and the soon-to-be independent Estonia. To that end, the company bought the ferry DANA REGINA of DFDS Seaways, and introduced her on the Stockholm-Tallinn line as the NORD ESTONIA. Seeing the immediate success that the ship had (most notably due to Estonia's independence in 1991, which significantly boosted passenger traffic between the country and the rest of Europe), half of the shares of the company were soon taken over by the public corporation Estonian Shipping Company, also known as ESCO. By 1993, it was clear that the NORD ESTONIA was too small to accommodate the ever-increasing number of passengers and vehicles, therefore the company purchased the cruiseferry WASA KING of the Finnish company Wasa Line (formerly the VIKING SALLY of Viking Line from 1980 to 1990 and then the new SILJA STAR of Silja Line for the 1990 season, until her sale to Wasa Line), which was the sister ship of the ANNA KARENINA (the former fleetmate of the WINDWARD PRIDE). The ship was renamed ESTONIA and began service on the Stockholm-Tallinn line, replacing the NORD ESTONIA which was chartered to Larvik Line (the former charterers of the WINDWARD PRIDE in 1983). Despite experiencing much success, this ferry abruptly ended her service just a year later, in one of the biggest maritime tragedies in history. Indeed, on 28 September 1994, while sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm in poor weather, the ship's bow door was hit by waves and was detached, hence causing the ESTONIA to sink rapidly. This led to 852 lives being lost, which is considered to be one of the worst maritime disasters in history, and the deadliest peacetime disaster in European waters. The sinking was widely perceived as a national tragedy in both Estonia and Sweden, and became the source of much media coverage as a result of public outcry. Due to the sinking, passenger traffic on the Baltic Sea, which had been on the rise for almost three decades, rapidly deteriorated over the following years. As a result of this, the reputation of Estline was severely tarnished. In spite of the disaster, the company resumed operations after two months, deploying the newly-acquired MARE BALTICUM (the ex-DIANA II of Viking Line and of Germany company TR-Line) on the Stockholm-Tallinn line. In order to make passengers forget about the ESTONIA disaster, the company adopted a new corporate identity, changing its logo and colours, and also omitting its name from the hulls of its vessels, instead simply adding the line on which they operated. To that end, the MARE BALTICUM had the sign 'Stockholm-Tallinn' written on both sides of her hull. While featuring the same amenities as the ESTONIA, her service was not as successful as her doomed predecessor. As a result, she was sold in 1996 to the Estonian company Tallink, which had been founded in 1990 and was experiencing a rapid rise towards the mid 1990s, having already acquired the ex-NORD ESTONIA in 1994 and having renamed her VANA TALLINN. The MARE BALTICUM joined her new company as the MELOODIA, and her replacement was the ANNA K, previously the ANNA KARENINA of Baltic Line, and the sister ship of the ill-fated ESTONIA. She began service for them as the REGINA BALTICA on the Stockholm-Tallinn line during the summer of 1996. As she proved to be much more successful, Estline progressively started to win back many passengers. Finding themselves with the need to add a second vessel in order to satisfy the re-emerging demand, they decided to buy the WINDWARD PRIDE. As a result of this, the latter was reunited with her former Baltic Line fleetmate, the ex-ANNA KARENINA. She arrived in Turku in October 1997. She was once again renovated, and she notably saw a third passenger ramp added to her stern. She was renamed BALTIC KRISTINA and was registered in Tallinn. She was introduced on the Stockholm-Tallinn line in 1998, hence making her return to the Baltic Sea after almost three years. Besides a small incident in 1998, during which she was hit by violent waves which damaged her bow (which necessitated repairs in Turku), the services went well. At the same time, in 1998, Nordström & Thulin pulled out of Estline, which meant that ESCO was now the sole proprietor of the company.
The WINDWARD PRIDE seen in 1997 in Turku, after having returned from the Caribbean Sea. She is now beginning her refit in order to enter service under Estline. Picture taken by Marko Hänninen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen in Turku in 1997, as she undergoes her refit in order to enter service on the Stockholm-Tallinn line on the Baltic Sea under Estline. Picture taken by Marko Hänninen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen in Stockholm in 1998, during her debut season under Estline. She was seen featuring her owners' new colours, as well as the sign 'Stockholm-Tallinn' written on both sides of her hull, instead of the name of Estline (so as to avoid bad memories of the ESTONIA disaster). Picture taken by Micke Aleksander and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen docked in the port of Tallinn in 2000, in what would turn out to be her final year under Estline. Picture taken by Eerik Laine and published on www.shipspotting.com.
With only ESCO being in charge of Estline ahead of the 1999 season, the company found itself under the full control of a corporation that was also the major shareholder of another Estonian ferry company that was on the rise: Tallink. Indeed, the latter benefited greatly from Estonia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, as it paved the way for the connection of the country with Finland via the Tallinn-Helsinki line. This service went on to become extremely popular in the 1990s, and this provided significant revenue to the company. Viking Line and Silja Line would later join the service towards the end of the decade, initially with high speed craft. Tallink however remained the dominant force. They first began service by deploying the eponymous ferry TALLINK (the ex-SVEA REGINA of Silja Line, once a fleetmate of the BALTIC KRISTINA during the 1970s) from 1992 to 1996. In late 1992 the company deployed the Ro-Ro carrier TRANSESTONIA (once the ARONA of Silja Line from 1984 to 1985) on the Tallinn-Helsinki line as well. They then chartered the ferry SAINT PATRICK II of Irish Ferries (later the EGNATIA II of the now-defunct Greek company Hellenic Mediterranean Lines from 1998 to 2000) from 1992 to 1995 in order to provide additional tonnage to the line. They then expanded their services with the addition of the VANA TALLINN (the ex-NORD ESTONIA) in 1993 and that of the MELOODIA (the ex-MARE BALTICUM) in 1996. They also deployed small hydrofoils in order to provide additional high speed service in 1994. These were replaced in 1997 by the high speed catamaran TALLINK EXPRESS I (built in 1989, and later the PANORMITIS of the Greek company ANES Ferries from 2001 to 2007, and since then the SPEED CAT 1 of Hellas Speed Cat, which has been inactive since 2016). In 1998 the company added another large ferry on the Tallinn-Helsinki line, namely the LION KING of Lion Ferry (the ex-TURELLA of Viking Line and later the STENA NORDICA of Stena Line, and the future RIGEL III of Ventouris Ferries), which began service as the FANTAASIA. Later in that same year, the company began a service on the Kapellskär-Paldiski line, hence beginning a new connection between Sweden and Estonia. This was done with the acquisition of the freighter KAPELLA (the ex-MARINE ÉVANGÉLINE of Sealink British Ferries and then of Opale Ferries). Seeing the ever-increasing reputation of Tallink, ESCO, its major shareholder, decided to abandon the Estline brandname once and for all in late 2000, and therefore the services it provided on the Stockholm-Tallinn line would also be under the management of Tallink. As a result of this, the BALTIC KRISTINA and the REGINA BALTICA joined Tallink, while Estline ceased to exist. Both ships kept their names and continued to be registered in Tallinn.
While it was anticipated that the BALTIC KRISTINA would remain on the Stockholm-Tallinn line, she was instead deployed on the Kapellskär-Paldiski line together with the KAPELLA, while the REGINA BALTICA (which continues to operate today under the Spanish company Baleària) remained on the Stockholm-Tallinn line. She began operations there in 2001, and she remained for a total of two seasons.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen on the Baltic Sea in 2001, which was her first season under the Estonian giants Tallink. Picture taken by Cpt. Jan Melchers and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen in the icy port of Tallinn during a cold winter day in early 2002. Picture taken by Miran Hamidulla and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Towards the end of the 2002 season, the BALTIC KRISTINA became the subject of much interest by other companies based on the Baltic Sea, in particular by the Latvian company Riga Sea Line. At the same time, Tallink began a newbuilding programme that would last throughout the rest of the 2000s, and this consisted in ordering extremely large and luxurious cruiseferries that would enable a better connection of Estonia with Finland and Sweden. This programme started with the the delivery of the cruiseferry ROMANTIKA, a ship that could carry 2,500 passengers. She was delivered in 2002 to Tallink, and began service on the Tallinn-Helsinki line. As a result of this, the VANA TALLINN was removed from the line and instead was deployed on the Kapellskär-Paldiski line, thereby substituting the BALTIC KRISTINA. The latter completed her last service under Tallink in October 2002, and departed the fleet two months later as her sale to Riga Sea Line was confirmed. It is noteworthy to state that Tallink would go on to purchase Silja Line, the original owners of the BALTIC KRISTINA, in 2006, hence four years after she had left the Estonian company.
The new owners of the BALTIC KRISTINA (which was now 29 years old) were established in early 2002 with the aim of introducing a ferry service from Latvia to Sweden via the Baltic Sea, in a similar way in which Tallink was connecting Estonia with Sweden. Their first season consisted of chartering the high speed ferry MAX MOLS of the Danish company Mols-Linien (known as Molslinjen since 2017), which served the Nynäshamn-Riga line during the summer before returning to her owners. Seeking a larger and permanent ferry that would also provide freight transportation, the company turned its attention to the BALTIC KRISTINA, which joined them in late 2002. Riga Sea Line included several shareholders, from private Latvian shipowners to the Riga City Council. The BALTIC KRISTINA was not renamed, but only switched her flag from Estonia to Latvia, and was now registered in Riga. She did not undertake any refit, and was immediately inserted on the Stockholm-Riga line in December 2002.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen in Stockholm in early 2003, just a few months after she began service under Riga Sea Line. As it was also the case during her spell under Estline, she once again bore the name of the line that she was serving on both sides of her hull, with this time having the sign 'Stockholm-Riga' printed as her livery. Picture taken by Micke Aleksander and published on www.simplonpc.co.uk.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen heading towards the port of Stockholm during the summer of 2003, the first one that she spent under Riga Sea Line. Picture taken by Paul Gunnstedt and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen docked in the port of Stockholm in 2004, which was her second full year operating for Riga Sea Line. Picture taken by Bill Ostring and published on www.digitalmuseum.se.
After three years on the Stockholm-Riga line, the BALTIC KRISTINA saw her career on the Baltic Sea end abruptly in 2005, as she was seized by the Port Authority of Riga as a result of her company experiencing financial issues and having unpaid debts. As such, she once again found herself under lay-up due to her owners' economic problems, as it had also been the case nine years prior, when she was operating with Baltic Line as the ILICH. She was laid-up in Riga, and the port authority sought to hold auction events in order to get rid of her. Due to her being 32 years old, there was also a possibility for her to be sold for scrap, but there were hopes of reactivation as her indoor amenities remained at high levels and the vessel was still considered to be in a good condition from a technical point of view. Riga Sea Line ceased operations at the end of the year, hence ending any prospects of seeing the ship operating under them again. In 2006 there were discussions regarding a potential charter to the Italian company Express Line, but the move did not materialise and the ship continued to remain laid-up in Riga.
The BALTIC KRISTINA seen laid-up in Riga in 2006, while awaiting her fate. Picture taken by Ingvar Svensson and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
After two years of lay-up, the port of Riga finally managed to sell the BALTIC KRISTINA, as she was acquired in 2007 at auction by the company Euro7, based in Germany but under Turkish management. As a result of this, the ship was renamed ATLAS 1 and headed to Tuzla for her refit under her new owners. She therefore left the Baltic Sea for the last time, after having been there for almost all 34 years of her career, with the sole exception being her two-month-long stay on the Caribbean Sea under Windward Lines. The ATLAS 1 was also reflagged to and registered in Panama. Plans for the ship were to have her deployed on the Adriatic Sea, on the Brindisi-Çeşme line. However, just before the 2007 season was supposed to begin, and while the company had advertised the services and had sold several tickets online, they disappeared from all platforms and never performed the ship's services nor refunded the passengers for the canceled itineraries. It was later revealed that the executives of the company were sought after by the Turkish municipal police. Their fate remains unknown so far. Because of these actions, the ATLAS 1 was once again laid-up, being sent to İstanbul, with her return to service being delayed yet again.
The ATLAS 1 seen in İstanbul, right after leaving the Baltic Sea for the last time. When she arrived in Turkey, she still featured the livery of Riga Sea Line, although the company's logo was removed from the ferry's funnel. Picture taken by Lars Helge Isdahl and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
Fortunately for the vessel, she did not wait long to find service again this time, as it was reported that she would spend the summer of 2007 under charter to the Moroccan company Comarit, in order to connect Spain with Morocco. These rumours were later confirmed as the ATLAS 1 headed to Almería, having been renamed BADIS (and still registered in Panama). Comarit , which was founded in 1984, was among the largest companies operating on the Alboran Sea and on the Gibraltar Strait, having several ships on its flagship Algeciras-Tangier Med line, and connecting Morocco with Spain and France. Fred. Olsen Lines previously had a stake in the company, before selling it in 2005. With her new operators, the BADIS was deployed on the Almería-Al Hoceïma line on the Alboran Sea. This was the company's first operations on this line since 2005, back when they had operated the ferry SARA I (the ex-BENCHIJIGUA II/BENCHIJIGUA/BETANCURIA of Fred. Olsen Lines) under charter from 2003 to 2005. The BADIS had a fair service on a competitive region, and spent three months overall on the Almería-Al Hoceïma line.
The BADIS seen arriving in the port of Almería in 2007, during her lone season under charter to Comarit. During that year, she bore a red livery, which had been introduced by Euro7 when they were supposedly planning to deploy the ship on the Adriatic Sea. Picture taken by Juanfra Monzón and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The BADIS seen sailing on the Gibraltar Strait during the summer of 2007. This was notably her first season on the Mediterranean Sea, after having previously been based for the largest part of her career in Northern Europe. Picture taken by Tony Davis and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
After her charter was completed, the BADIS returned (supposedly) to Euro7, and she remained laid-up in İstanbul, hoping to find a buyer or facing the possibility of demolition due to her close proximity to the scrapyards of Aliağa. However, she once again did not have to wait for too long, as it was announced in October 2007 that she had been bought by the Greek ferry company Ventouris Ferries. She therefore left İstanbul in order to begin her service under her new owners, who this time actually had plans to operate her.
Ventouris Ferries has been an important company in the Greek ferry scene, having had a strong presence on both the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea for more than four decades. Its roots go back to 1975, when a ferry company was founded by the Kimolos-native Konstantinos Ventouris, a well-known self-made shipowner who established himself by operating cargo vessels before deciding to enter the Greek coastal service. Along with his four sons, he bought the small passenger ship AGIOS GEORGIOS, which began service in 1976 on the Western Cyclades. The ship immediately made a great impact and gave the company significant exposure across the Aegean Sea. In 1978, the family bought the ferry KONINGIN WILHELMINA of the Dutch company Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland, which was initially renamed CAPETAN KONSTANTINOS, and was introduced on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line in 1980. She was then renamed PANAGIA TINOU in 1981, and went on to have a legendary spell on the aforementioned line. The success of the vessel led the Ventouris family in making significant new acquisitions in the early 1980s. Indeed, in 1980, the company, which had began trading as Ventouris Ferries, bought the ex-FREE ENTERPRISE I of the British company Townsend Thoresen (the predecessor of P&O Ferries), converted her in Perama and introduced her in 1980 on the Western Cyclades as the KIMOLOS. The latter also went on to become largely successful, and therefore the company bought the ferry ROI BAUDOUIN of the Belgian company Regie voor Maritiem Transport (later known as Oostende Lines) in 1983. Initially renamed GEORGIOS B, this ship was converted in Perama and entered service on the Cyclades as the legendary GEORGIOS EXPRESS, considered by many to be the greatest ship in the history of the Greek coastal service (though the PANAGIA TINOU is also a major candidate regarding that debate). In 1984, they also began operating on the Adriatic Sea, having bought two ships belonging to the British conglomerate Sealink: the PATRA EXPRESS (the ex-ST GEORGE of British Railways) and the BARI EXPRESS (the ex-PRINCESSE ASTRID of Regie voor Maritiem Transport, and the sister ship of the GEORGIOS EXPRESS). Both ships were successfully introduced on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line.
However, in 1986 the Ventouris family split into two groups following disagreements between the four Ventouris brothers as their father retired from the coastal service sector. The two oldest sons formed the two subsequent companies: the new company Ventouris Sea Lines was founded by Evangelos Ventouris (along with his younger brother Antonis), while Ventouris Ferries continued under Georgios Ventouris (along with his younger brother Apostolos). The result of this was the transfer of the GEORGIOS EXPRESS and of the KIMOLOS to Ventouris Sea Lines, while Ventouris Ferries would continue to operate solely on the Adriatic Sea with the PATRA EXPRESS and the BARI EXPRESS (although the company later resumed service on the Cyclades, by deploying the BARI EXPRESS on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line in 1988) as well as the newly-acquired ATHENS EXPRESS (later renamed ATHENS in 2003). Just a year later, the Ventouris family experienced a further split, as Apostolos Ventouris went on to found the company AK Ventouris, and took over the ownership of the PANAGIA TINOU. Antonis Ventouris also operated the smaller company Ventouris Lines on the Saronic Gulf beginning in 1992. By 1995, Ventouris Sea Lines and Ventouris Lines had stopped operations due to financial issues, while AK Ventouris ceased operations in 1990 and then again in 1992, before being reformed as C-Link Ferries (based on the Aegean Sea) from 2002 to 2007. While his brothers experienced abrupt ends to their services, Georgios Ventouris and his company prevailed, operating several successful ships that went on to have legendary spells on the Adriatic Sea as well as on the Aegean Sea. The company established a solid base in Bari, becoming very popular amongst Italian travelers and hauliers. Their presence there during the 1980s was key in the port's development, and in fact several passengers preferred to call there rather than in Brindisi, which had been the main Southern Italian port that was connected with Greece. Ships that were deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line as well as on the shorter Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line over the following years included: the GRECIA EXPRESS (bought in 1987 from the Dutch company North Sea Ferries, caught fire under under mysterious circumstances while being under refit in Aegion in late 1993), the legendary Ro-Pax VENUS (the ex-DANA GLORIA of DFDS Seaways and later the GEDSER/GEDSER LINK of the Germany company GT-Link, she was bought in 1989 and replaced the PATRA EXPRESS-which was sold in 1990-and was later named SIREN in 2004), the sister ships EUROPA (the ex-FALSTER of the Swedish company Rederi Ab Nordö, then operated as the ATLAS IV on the Adriatic Sea for the Greek company Libra Maritime, before being bought in 1989 by Ventouris Ferries, being renamed VEGA in 1990 before being sold for scrap in 2004) and EUROPA II (the ex-SCANDINAVIA of Rederi Ab Nordö, then operated as the ATLAS III on the Adriatic Sea for Libra Maritime, before being chartered in 1989 and then bought in 1990 by Ventouris Ferries, being renamed SATURNUS and operating until 2003, she was then the ALEXANDRA/ALEXANDRA T of Tsirikos Lines from 2005 until her sale for demolition in 2011). Another major purchase occurred in 1991, when the company deployed the iconic Ro-Pax ferry POLARIS (the sister ship of the VENUS/SIREN, and previously the DANA FUTURA of DFDS Seaways and then the SKÅNE LINK of the Swedish company Nordö-Link), which operated for 20 years and is widely considered to be the greatest ship in the history of Ventouris Ferries. The company then continued to thrive during the 1990s, while also further enhencing its presence on the Adriatic Sea with the subsequent acquisitions of the PEGASUS (the ex-ESPRESSO MALTA of the Italian company Tirrenia Di Navigazione, was deployed on the Western Cyclades in 1996 and sold in 1999 to Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins, and is today the EXPRESS PEGASUS of Hellenic Seaways, currently under lay-up) and of the POLLUX (which operated for just one season as she then became the THEOFILOS of NEL Lines in 1995) in 1994.
Right before the 21st century began, the company had become a massive success in Bari, and had formed one of the most well-known fleets of the Greek coastal service. However, in 1999, the company gave away its Cyclades services by selling the PEGASUS to Minoan Flying Dolphins, while having also sold the BARI EXPRESS to Agapitos Express Ferries just a year prior. Moreover, the company soon began to face competition threats beginning in 1998, when the company Superfast Ferries of Attica Group (founded in 1993) deployed its first two vessels, the SUPERFAST I and the SUPERFAST II, on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Bari line. Considered much faster and more modern than the vessels of Ventouris Ferries, they quickly began to earn a larger part of the market share, and this led Ventouris Ferries to abandoning the service to Patras, instead operating solely on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, while also focusing more on freight transportation. An attempt to win over more passengers on the Igoumenitsa-Paxoi-Corfu-Brindisi line with two high speed ferries, the THUNDERCAT I (now the MEGA JET of the Greek company Sea Jets) and the THUNDERCAT II (now the JAUME I of Baleària) in 2001 resulted in a major flop. However, a more successful service was the one introduced in 2000 on the Bari-Durrës line, which links Italy with Albania. This was done with the company buying the legendary EPTANISOS of Strintzis Lines (which had been taken over by Attica Group in order to become Blue Star Ferries during that same year), and deploying her as the new POLLUX. She remained there until 2003, when she was sold for scrap and was replaced by the ATHENS EXPRESS, which was renamed ATHENS. In 2001, this service was further enhanced, as the company chartered the ferry IONIS of fellow Adriatic Sea company European Seaways (now A-Ships Management), which had a lengthy spell on the Adriatic Sea (she is also a different ship to the well-known IONIS of Triton Ferries, which currently operates on the Lavrion-Kea-Kythnos line).
At the time of the arrival of the BADIS, Ventouris Ferries had a fleet of four vessels: the POLARIS and the SIREN on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, and the ATHENS and the IONIS on the Bari-Durrës line. They were continuing to experience competition from Attica Group, which had been deploying the BLUE HORIZON of Blue Star Ferries on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Bari line. Moreover, the company was planning to introduce two newly-built Ro-Pax ferries under Superfast Ferries in 2008 and 2009, respectively, namely the new SUPERFAST I and the new SUPERFAST II. Aiming to further strengthen their services out of Bari, they decided to introduce a new ferry on the Bari-Durrës line, one which would have excellent indoor areas, a fair amount of cabins and a respectable speed of 17-18 knots. This ship was the BADIS, which arrived in Igoumenitsa in late November 2007. She was renamed RIGEL, and hence continued the company's naming policy, which has been (since 1990) to name their vessels after constellations. She remained registered in Panama. After a short refit in Igoumenitsa, she began services under her new company on the Bari-Durrës line on the Adriatic Sea. She was also the first ship of Ventouris Ferries to be painted in the new dark blue livery, which was introduced on all other ships (except for the IONIS) in 2008, hence replacing the company's traditional white colours.
The RIGEL seen in the port of Igoumenitsa in early 2008, just a few months after she began service for Ventouris Ferries. This was the start of what went on to be her longest spell under one company in her career, as she stayed with Ventouris Ferries for 14 years. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
Right upon entering service for Ventouris Ferries, the RIGEL quickly became a ship much appreciated by both Italian and Albanian passengers, as she featured excellent amenities that were up to very high standards, despite the ship being almost 35 years old at the time. She would also perform overnight trips which were widely praised by passengers as well as hauliers. Ahead of the 2009 season, the IONIS returned to European Seaways and became a competitor of the RIGEL on the Bari-Durrës. The latter however prevailed due to having better passenger amenities. Overall, the line remained very competitive, with Ventouris Ferries, European Seaways, Halkidon Shipping (which owned the GRECIA and the VENEZIA, two sister ships of the EXPRESS PEGASUS), Tirrenia Di Navigazione and Adria Ferries (which notably had the ferry RIVIERA ADRIATICA, previously the DAEDALUS of Minoan Lines) being the main players. At the time, the RIGEL was considered to be the most comfortable and appreciated vessel of the line. She also operated in a very good tandem alongside the ATHENS, despite the latter being much older and having less passenger capacity. In the meantime, the company further enhanced its services on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line by deploying the veteran Ro-Pax ferry SEATRADE (the ex-STENA SEATRADER of Stena Line) in 2008, together with the POLARIS. With this move, the SIREN went on to join the RIGEL and the ATHENS on the Bari-Durrës line in 2009.
The RIGEL seen departing the port of Bari during the 2008 season, which was her first full summer under Ventouris Ferries. Picture taken by Jan Vinther Christensen and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
The RIGEL seen docked in the port of Bari during the summer of 2009, in what was her second full season under Ventouris Ferries. Picture taken by Kostas Sarlis and published on www.nautilia.gr.
Despite the promising results of the RIGEL on the Bari-Durrës line, Ventouris Ferries was forced to face the difficulties of the Greek financial crisis, which started to deeply affect the ferry sector, including on the Adriatic Sea. Having already lost the edge on the service between Greece and Bari due to the success of the SUPERFAST I and the SUPERFAST II, and with their vessels becoming older and some of them failing to comply with the new SOLAS criteria, the fleet began to diminish. The SIREN and the ATHENS were sold for scrap in 2010. With only the RIGEL remaining on the Bari-Durrës line, but also in the need to add a second vessel on the line, Ventouris Ferries bought the ISLA DE BOTAFOC of Baleària, which was also on her way to Alang for scrapping as the WINNER 9, but they went on to save her from being demolished. The ship was renamed BARI and was introduced on the Bari-Durrës line during the summer of 2010. She became the main partner of the RIGEL up until the latter's career end. While the service between Italy and Albania continued to be successful, Ventouris Ferries decided to abandon the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line and sold both the iconic POLARIS and the SEATRADE for scrap in 2011. With this move, the company now only had two ferries remaining: the RIGEL and the BARI.
The RIGEL seen departing the port of Bari during the summer of 2010. Picture taken by Pantelis Sotos and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
The RIGEL having just entered the port of Bari during the summer of 2010. Picture taken by Trevor Jones and published on www.faktaomfartyg.se.
With a reduced fleet, Ventouris Ferries entered the 2012 season with much uncertainty, as many traditional Greek companies serving the Adriatic Sea progressively began to disappear. Moreover, the competition on the Bari-Durrës line remained very strong, as it featured Adria Ferries (with two ships), ANEK Lines which deployed the legendary LATO on the line, as well as a new company called Albanian Ferries, which had two ships, with one of them being the ex-VANA TALLINN, the former fleetmate of the RIGEL back when she was owned by Tallink. The services on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line were taken over by NEL Lines, which introduced the Ro-Ro carriers AQUA HERCULES and OLYMPUS, but the results were disappointing and both ships departed the fleet in late 2012. The RIGEL and the BARI had a very good season during that year, and they therefore ensured the survival of Ventouris Ferries. In 2013, the RIGEL was renamed RIGEL I, as she changed her port of registry from Panama to Limassol (being the second time that she would be registered in the Cypriot port). The change to the Cypriot flag came with a name change, as the Limassol Registry already had another ship named RIGEL. Even if she was now 40 years old, she continued to serve the Bari-Durrës line during the 2013 season, as well as for the following three years. Despite her age, she continued to provide reliable service, although her smaller garage soon began to be a problem for the company, especially as passenger and vehicle throughput on the line continued to grow.
The RIGEL seen in Igoumenitsa while undergoing her annual winter refit in late 2012. A few months later she changed her name, as she became the RIGEL I. Picture taken by Marios Ferentinos and published on www.marinetraffic.com.
The RIGEL I seen departing the port of Bari during the summer of 2013, which was her first season under her new name. Picture taken by Russell Judge and published on www.shipspotting.com.
The RIGEL I docked in Bari during the 2014 summer season. Picture taken by Marius Esman and published on www.shipspotting.com.
Ahead of the 2015 season, Ventouris Ferries was once again a profitable company, and had managed to beat off competition very effectively against Adria Ferries, while companies like Albanian Ferries ceased operations in late 2014, and ANEK Lines did not return following the summer of 2014. With growing demand, Ventouris Ferries bought the large cruiseferry SCANDINAVIA of Polferries, which was due to begin service on the Bari-Durrës line as the RIGEL II during the summer of 2015. She became the new partner of the RIGEL I, whereas the BARI was deployed on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, thereby marking the return of Ventouris Ferries on the ferry link between Greece and Bari for the first time since 2011. All ships had a very successful 2015 season, as they also did during the 2016 season. With the company still very much satisfied with the performance of its vessels, it proceeded to buy another ferry for Bari-Durrës line, namely the veteran cruiseferry REGINA DELLA PACE of Croatian company Blue Line International. This ship was once the FANTAASIA of Tallink, hence a former fleetmate of the RIGEL I back when she was operating for that same company. The two ships were therefore reunited under Ventouris Ferries, with the REGINA DELLA PACE being renamed RIGEL III. She began service on the Bari-Durrës line in 2017. The RIGEL I left this service and went on to join the BARI on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line for the 2017 season. This move marked the first time that the ferry operated in Greece since joining Ventouris Ferries. Both ships had a remarkable season, and once again provided much revenue to the company, which further reasserted its presence on the Adriatic Sea after many years in the shadow of larger competitors.
The RIGEL I seen docked in the port of Zakynthos during the summer of 2017, as I happened to be in the island during the time in which she served the island. This was her first summer on the Ionian Sea.
A view of the RIGEL I as she is seen resting in Zakynthos during the summer of 2017.
The RIGEL I seen in Zakynthos in 2017. This was the first (and eventually only) time that I saw her, and therefore I could not miss out on the opportunity to take pictures of her while she was in the port of my beloved island.
The stern of the RIGEL I as she is seen resting in Zakynthos in 2017. It has not changed much since the start of her career, with only the middle passenger outdoor deck being equipped with a nice sun deck as result of the warmer temperatures on the Mediterranean Sea.
The RIGEL I seen in the port of Zakynthos in 2017, shortly before her departure for Kefalonia.
The RIGEL I seen in Zakynthos in 2017, in what turned out to be my last-ever picture of the ship. I never got the chance to see her again after that day, as she would head for demolition just over four years after taking this picture.
The successful service provided by the RIGEL I-BARI duo continued during 2018, as well as 2019. At the same time, the RIGEL II and the RIGEL III were also doing a very good job on the Bari-Durrës line, even with the introduction of the Italian giants Grandi Navi Veloci in 2015. With enough earnings at their disposal, Ventouris Ferries sought to purchase a new vessel that would be more efficient in the long term, as its fleet was once again aging. This was the ferry ORANGE 7 of the Japanese company Shikoku Kaihatsu Ferry, which arrived in the summer of 2019 as the RIGEL VII (skipping over the numbers between III and VII). She was introduced on the Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line in 2020, where she replaced the BARI. The latter was due to perform services on the new Bari-Sarandë line, but these were canceled due to low numbers of tickets sold. As a result, the ship was laid-up in Durrës, only serving the Bari-Durrës line once again in late 2020. The RIGEL I was the partner of the RIGEL VII, although her service was restricted to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line, as passenger traffic towards Kefalonia and Zakynthos had diminished. This would prove to be her last year of operations under the company, as she was now the oldest vessel of the company (almost 48 years old), and her garage continued to be an issue as it meant vehicle capacity constraints.
The RIGEL I seen arriving in Igoumenitsa in 2020, in what turned out to be the final operating season of her career. Picture published on www.shipsotting.com.
Upon the completion of the 2020 season, the RIGEL I headed to Aegion for her winter lay-up. The 2020 season was deemed a disappointment for many companies on the Adriatic Sea, including Ventouris Ferries. As passenger and vehicle numbers began to shrink, five vessels were no longer deemed necessary by the company. As a result of this, they decided to operate the newer ships that they had bought (the RIGEL II, the RIGEL III and the RIGEL VII), whereas the BARI and the RIGEL I remained laid-up in Durrës and Aegion, respectively, for the whole 2021 season. The RIGEL I was not added back to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line due to the RIGEL VII being preferred over her, as she was younger, larger, faster and had better vehicle capacity. After spending the entire summer laid-up in Aegion, the RIGEL I eventually became the victim of the growing demolition market, as scrap prices were at very good levels. With this in mind, and with her services no longer required, Ventouris Ferries decided to send the ship for demolition. She would depart the company as its oldest vessel, as well as the one that had been operating for the longest time under them. She holds the fourth longest tenure of a ferry under the company, together with the BARI EXPRESS and the VEGA, with 14 years. She only trails the ATHENS EXPRESS/ATHENS (24 years), the VENUS/SIREN (21 years) and the POLARIS (20 years).
The RIGEL I was not the only ship that was due to depart the company. Indeed, the BARI has also been announced as being sold for scrap, therefore she will finally meet the end of her career, after having dodged it 11 years prior. With the departures of both ferries, Ventouris Ferries will carry on with a fleet of three vessels, unless they consider purchasing a new one with the money that they will earn from the sales of the RIGEL I and of the BARI. With her planned departure for India underway, the RIGEL I was renamed ROGER and was registered in Moroni, hence her final flag was that of the Comoros. On 5 September 2021, the RIGEL I, which had a lengthy career on the Baltic Sea for many prominent companies, and which had a very successful spell on the Adriatic Sea, left Greece and Europe for the last time, as she began to head towards Alang in order to be scrapped. She therefore completed a long career, filled with many ups and downs, but definitely one worthy of remembering.
The ROGER seen departing Greece for the last time, as she passes below the Rion-Antirrion Bridge in order to head towards the Suez Canal, by which she will transit while making her final trip to India. Even while heading towards her final destination under a new name, she still kept the livery of Ventouris Ferries, whom she served loyally for 14 years. Picture published on www.shipfriends.gr.
While it was sad to see the ship heading for scrap and knowing that the Adriatic Sea will miss one of its most beautiful vessels, one may at least suggest that she had a much better path than many other ferries that operated in Greece, as she kept on sailing effectively until the very end, regardless of her being over 45 years old (when other ferries head for demolition at a much younger age). She was a key ship of the Baltic Sea for more than three decades, and she contributed significantly to the rise in passenger traffic there. She had contrasted experiences under the different owners she had, being far more lucky and operational under most, but also encountering issues with some (such as Baltic Line, Penomi Shipping Company, Riga Sea Line or Euro7) which kept her out of service for some time. But even in these challenging times, she prevailed, and her attributes were noticed by Ventouris Ferries, which went on to keep her for 14 years. Under the latter, she established herself as one of the top ferries on the Bari-Durrës line in the late 2000s, and then also operated with great success on the demanding Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line towards the end of her career. Altogether, she proved to be a valuable asset for a historical company even during her final years. Her services enabled the company to survive the Greek financial crisis, and they can still hope for many great things to come in the future. And, ultimately, unlike other ships that make their final journey under tow and in miserable conditions, she left on her own, thereby concluding her successful career with pride. While I was not able to travel with her, the day that I saw her in Zakynthos during the summer of 2017 was very memorable for me, as I was able to see a beautiful vessel that came from another era but which was also up to date with the more modern landscape of the ferry scene. Her impressive appearance really left me amazed, and I therefore feel lucky that I got to see her and photograph her, as such moments were quite rare and precious. Therefore, RIGEL I (the name under which I got to know you), I would like to thank you for your contribution to the Greek coastal service.