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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

In The News: Golden Star Ferries Sells Four Ships to Seajets

The SUPERRUNNER seen leaving the port of Rafina during the summer of 2018.

The iconic SUPERFERRY II seen arriving in the port of Gavrion in Andros during the 2020 season. She had departed the port of Tinos and was then due to head to Rafina.

The high speed trimaran SUPERSPEED seen in Perama during the summer of 2019, after her season on the Cyclades was cut short because of a major engine failure.

The SUPERCAT seen docked in Piraeus in 2019, during her first summer of operations under Golden Star Ferries.

Just as the companies of the Greek coastal service have started to make preparations for the 2021 summer season, an unexpected transaction between two main players of the Cyclades who happened to be fierce rivals for the past few years occurred. And, for sure, such a transaction could not go unnoticed nor uncommented, as it probably is one of the most shocking ones that the Greek coastal service has seen in recent memory, perhaps to a much higher extent than the sale of the NISSOS KEFALONIA of Kefalonian Lines to Levante Ferries back in November 2018. Indeed, it was announced that Golden Star Ferries, a company that had started operations on the Rafina-Cyclades service in 2011 and which had undergone a major growth in the past few years, had sold four of its six vessels to its main rival, namely Sea Jets. This sale consisted of one conventional ferry, the SUPERFERRY II (which had been the first vessel owned by Golden Star Ferries upon the start of their operations), and of three high speed craft. These are the high speed ferry SUPERRUNNER, the high speed trimaran SUPERSPEED and the high speed catamaran SUPERCAT. All of them had joined the company between late 2016 and early 2018, back when it underwent a major fleet expansion and had also made a huge investment into high speed craft. With this sale, Golden Star Ferries is now left with two ships, namely the conventional ferry SUPERFERRY and the high speed ferry SUPEREXPRESS, which had started operations for the company in 2016 and in 2018, respectively. Sea Jets, on the contrary, continues its incredible growth, with its fleet continuing to increase exponentially. Indeed, with these four purchases, its fleet is due to total 20 (if we include the RAPIDLINK JET which joined the company in late 2019 and which is due to begin her conversion for service in Greece soon) ships, of which 17 are high speed craft. As a reminder, the company only had four ships back in 2012! Based on the given information on Greek coastal service forums, the SUPERRUNNER is due to join Sea Jets with immediate effect, while the SUPERSPEED and the SUPERCAT will join the company at some point during the summer (although they will most likely not be prepared for service under their new owner until 2022). The SUPERFERRY will spend the 2021 season on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line with Golden Star Ferries, while she is due to be delivered to Sea Jets in October 2021.

The thought of seeing Golden Star Ferries abruptly ceding two-thirds of its fleet to its main rival would have been unimaginable even during the 2020 season, as intense competition had eased down between the two companies. However, such an event altogether brings (at least for now) an end to a major saga of the Greek coastal service, as both privately-owned companies battled against each other on the Cyclades as well as in Crete, especially during the summers of 2018 and of 2019. As suggested by the transaction, one can easily believe that, in the end, Sea Jets, prevailed. However, my personal opinion is that this move will not necessarily mark the end of Golden Star Ferries, but, on the contrary, a shift into their competitive mindset, as they will learn from these intense seasons in order to better define their role within the Greek coastal service. This 'In The News' post aims to analyse how the events leading to the acquisition of these four ships by Sea Jets unfolded, and what will be their impact on the Cyclades, as well as on the Aegean Sea as whole.

In order to provide you with a thorough analysis of this sale, it is essential to give the historical context of both companies and how they expanded their operations during the 2010s. Their backgrounds do have some similarities, considering that they are owned by traditional shipping families originating from the Cyclades, and with their managers having also owned and operated freight shipping companies. Indeed, Sea Jets is under the management of Marios Iliopoulos (who owns the tanker company Worldwide Green), whereas Golden Star Ferries was founded by the brothers Dimitris Stefanou and Georgios Stefanou (who own the tanker and dry bulk carrier company Bright Navigation). In addition, both companies began their operations by acquiring a ship from Blue Star Ferries. In the case of Golden Star Ferries, as stated previously, it was through the purchase of the SUPERFERRY II, which had been operating for Blue Star Ferries from its formation in 2000 until the end of the 2010 season. Sea Jets began operations in 2004 with the high speed catamaran JET ONE (previously the SEA JET 1 of Blue Star Ferries under the Blue Star Jets division) of Aegean Jet Maritime, which became the SUPER JET. That company had been under the management of Marios Iliopoulos, and is considered the predecessor of Sea Jets. Another noteworthy fact is that the second ship of Sea Jets was also acquired from Blue Star Ferries, and this was none other than the sister ship and the former fleetmate of the SUPER JET, namely the SEA JET 2 (previously operating under the Blue Star Jets division of Blue Star Ferries), which joined the company in 2006. However, there are nevertheless some differences in how the two companies evolved based on their experience within the Greek coastal service. Indeed, the Iliopoulos family had already been involved with the passenger sector since 1989, when it was operating the company Ilio Lines, which operated several hydrofoils on the Cyclades and Crete, and later on the Saronic Gulf through the Saronic Dolphins brandname. They stopped activities in 2005, as Marios Iliopoulos had dedicated himself to Sea Jets. The Stefanou brothers, on the contrary, had their first taste of the Greek ferry market through Golden Star Ferries. Based in Andros, they bought the SUPERFERRY II, which had become an acclaimed ship on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line from the moment that she began her career in Greece in 1993, first with Strintzis Lines (1993-2000) and then under Blue Star Ferries (as the latter was formed in 2000, when Attica Group took over Strintzis Lines). However, as Blue Star Ferries continued to modernise its fleet (anticipating the arrivals of the newly-built sister ships BLUE STAR DELOS and BLUE STAR PATMOS in 2011 and in 2012, respectively), they decided that the 1974-built SUPERFERRY II would no longer be a part of their future plans. These views were all but confirmed after the ship collided with the main pier of the port of Tinos in 2010. However, Golden Star Ferries emerged, and they took advantage of the ship's fame on the Cyclades in order to keep her in Rafina. After undergoing a refit in Piraeus, the ship started service on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line. At the same time, Sea Jets was operating on the Cyclades with the SUPER JET and the SEA JET 2, as well as with the high speed ferry MEGA JET, which they bought in 2008. That ship was operating on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line during the 2011 season (where she first began operating in 2009), although her spell under Sea Jets has been noted for the numerous engine failures that she experienced. After a good first season for Golden Star Ferries, there were rumours that they would be acquiring a second ship, with reports stating that they had bought the ferry EPTANISOS of Strintzis Ferries (a company created by the Strintzis family in 2003, after Strintzis Lines was taken over by Attica Group in order to become Blue Star Ferries). However, these rumours eventually proved to be false, and Golden Star Ferries continued to solely operate the SUPERFERRY II for the time being.

The 2012 season was essentially the starting point of both companies' expansion plans, even though Golden Star Ferries stayed with just one ferry until 2015. Indeed, that year, despite the Greek financial crisis reaching its peak and destabilising the Greek coastal service, the company continued to provide excellent service despite the strong competition provided by Blue Star Ferries, Hellenic Seaways, Agoudimos Lines and Fast Ferries in Rafina. The latter in particular made a key addition on the Rafina-Cyclades service. Indeed, inspired by the success of their flagship, the ferry THEOLOGOS P, which had started operations on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line back in 2007, they decided to bring their other ferry, the EKATERINI P (which had been operating on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line on the Ionian Sea since 1999) as a second ferry in Rafina, after converting her in Perama. The introduction of the EKATERINI P proved to be a major success, and it now meant that Fast Ferries operated two ferries from Rafina, as opposed to the other companies that only had one ship there. At the time, Sea Jets was operating the SEA JET 2 on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros line, where she had been deployed since 2006. While they did not immediately consider expanding their services in Rafina, they nevertheless strengthened their fleet by buying a second high speed ferry, namely the SNAEFFEL of the Isle of Mann Steam Packet Company, which was renamed MASTER JET and began service on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line alongside the MEGA JET.

With the results of the 2012 season deemed satisfactory by both companies, they both began a transition phase for 2013 and 2014. Indeed, Sea Jets strengthened its services in Rafina by having the SUPER JET deployed on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, where she was extremely successful. The SEA JET 2 replaced her on the Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line. The continued good performances of the MASTER JET and of the MEGA JET on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line combined with the successful deployment of the HIGHSPEED 5 of Hellenic Seaways on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos line during the 2013 prompted Sea Jets to further consolidate its presence there. This happened in 2014, when the company deployed the large high speed ferry TERA JET (previously the SCORPIO of the Italian company Tirrenia Di Navigazione) on the Heraklion-Santorini line, while the MEGA JET expanded her service in order to operate on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line. The introduction of the TERA JET, which became the flagship of Sea Jets, proved to be a massive success. Indeed, the ship's large size and her impressive speed quickly made her one of the best high speed craft in Greece, and she proved to be a worthy competitor against the equally-successful HIGHSPEED 5. That same year, the MASTER JET was deployed on the Piraeus-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, where she had a decent spell. The 2014 season was generally seen as a breakthrough year for Sea Jets, as the company continued to expand its fleet and services on the Cyclades, and was generating fair amounts of revenue despite the Greek financial crisis. As for Golden Star Ferries, the year 2014 proved to be eventful as they were due to acquire the Japanese-built ferry OSADO MARU of the Japanese company Sado Kisen. She was due to undergo a conversion in China before entering service as the company's second ferry in Rafina during the 2015 season. However, shortly after she was delivered to the company, the latter instead took notice of another ship owned by Sado Kisen, namely the younger ferry KOGANE MARU. As a result of this, they sold the OSADO MARU to the Indonesian company Sekawan Maju Sejahtera (where she now operates under the name SMS SAGITA) and bought the KOGANE MARU, which arrived in Greece during the summer of 2015, with an anticipated entry to service during the 2016 season.

With the 2014 season ending on a successful note for Sea Jets and Golden Star Ferries, both companies turned their attention towards the summer of 2015. As stated above, Golden Star Ferries continued to successfully operate the SUPERFERRY II, while the KOGANE MARU arrived in Greece in June 2015, and immediately began her conversion in Perama. Sea Jets further asserted their plans to expand their fleet by buying two new high speed ferries in early 2015, namely the sister ships CONDOR VITESSE and CONDOR EXPRESS of the French company Condor Ferries, which were serving the Channel Islands. The two ships were renamed CHAMPION JET 1 and CHAMPION JET 2, respectively. Their acquisition sparked much excitement and the company therefore was expected to further dominate on the Cyclades with two impressive new high speed ferries. Furthermore, Sea Jets had acquired the high speed ferry ÉMERAUDE FRANCE of the defunct French company Émeraude Ferries (which had been laid-up in Tilbury since 2007) and had planned to operate her in Rafina for the 2015. While the ship was renamed SEA SPEED JET, she never entered service for the company, instead being used as a relief ship and remaining laid-up in Chalkida, with her engines being used as spare parts in case one of the active ships of the company would have technical issues. While this purchase proved to be disappointing, Sea Jets however planned to bring another high speed ferry for service on the Cyclades in 2015. This was the CORSICA EXPRESS SECONDA of the French-Italian company Corsica Ferries-Sardinia Ferries, which was renamed PAROS JET and was sent for a conversion in Elefsina. As the 2015 season began, the CHAMPION JET 1 was the first one to begin service, being deployed on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, hence taking over the service of the MASTER JET, which was instead deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line. While the ship started off well, she then had an engine failure which impacted her services for the rest of the year, and she had several delayed and canceled trips, as well as a minor collision with the hydrofoil FLYING DOLPHIN ATHINA of Aegean Flying Dolphins (and coincidentally a ship once owned by the Iliopoulos family through Ilio Lines) in Piraeus. The CHAMPION JET 2 also entered service in July 2015, and she operated on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line instead of the CHAMPION JET 1, which moved to a new service introduced by her company on the Western Cyclades, namely the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line. The aforementioned problems of the ship led her company in making a few changes to its services. Indeed, when the PAROS JET was ready to enter service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line, the MASTER JET was instead placed on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line, and the CHAMPION JET 1 was withdrawn from service. In spite of these problems, the company had a good season, with the SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET continuing to have success in Piraeus and Rafina, respectively. The latter in particular had an excellent season. Similarly, the TERA JET, by now the company's flagship, operated successfully on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line, instead of the MEGA JET which was back on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line.

The CHAMPION JET 2 seen sailing on the Cyclades during the 2015 season, which was her first one under Sea Jets. That year, she had a successful summer on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line.

A view of the TERA JET as she is seen arriving in Santorini from Heraklion during the 2015 season. Despite her high operating costs due to her large size, the ship was a key contributor to the growth of Sea Jets during the mid 2010s, first in Heraklion and then in Rafina.

With the entire Greek coastal service having experienced a very successful 2015 season marked by a return to profitability for many companies and a significant rise in passenger and tourist traffic in Greece, all main ferry operators began to set their sights towards the 2016 season. Most notably, the Rafina-Cyclades service saw an incredible rise in the number of ships due to operate during the season. While Blue Star Ferries left the area, Hellenic Seaways introduced the high speed ferry HELLENIC HIGHSPEED on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini line. Fast Ferries was now operating three ships from Rafina, after having bought and deployed the FAST FERRIES ANDROS (previously the EPTANISOS of Strintzis Ferries) during the 2015 season. The latter and the THEOLOGOS P were to serve the traditional Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the EKATERINI P, which had been operating there successfully since 2012, was inserted on a new service on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line. Golden Star Ferries responded to this move by finally having two ships in Rafina, namely the SUPERFERRY II and the ex-KOGANE MARU, which was now ready to enter service as the SUPERFERRY following her successful conversion in Perama. She was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, whereas the SUPERFERRY II saw her service being extended on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros line. Sea Jets also added a ferry in Rafina, after having been satisfied with the performances of the SUPER JET during the previous three seasons. They initially deployed the MASTER JET on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, but they immediately replaced her with the PAROS JET, which went on to spend the rest of the summer there. In addition, the company placed the CHAMPION JET 1, now repaired and fully refurbished, on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, while the SUPER JET returned to the Western Cyclades after being placed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, thereby complementing the service of the SEA JET 2 which was operating on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line. Overall, the 2016 season was also deemed a huge success for all companies, with the services from Rafina to the Cyclades being particularly praised by passengers. The SUPERFERRY had an excellent first season and she was praised for her impressive passenger areas and her comfortable services. The SUPERFERRY II was a bit less successful in Naxos and Paros, but she still maintained services of high standard. The PAROS JET was also appreciated for her speedy services. Ultimately, this season would mark the start of a very fierce rivalry in between Golden Star Ferries and Sea Jets, as they would continue to expand their fleet and services, with a particular focus in Rafina. The goal of both companies was to become the most dominant operator there, as the competition was becoming more intense, and they also felt threatened by the presence of other companies on the Cyclades, including Fast Ferries in Rafina and Hellenic Seaways in Piraeus and Heraklion. To that end, both companies made several major moves ahead of the 2017 season.

In the case of Golden Star Ferries, the company decided to further increase its fleet number and to acquire a high speed craft for the first time in its history. Indeed, in late 2016, it was announced that the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines (which had been operating on the Cyclades since 2009) would join the company and become the third ship of Golden Star Ferries. She was renamed SUPERRUNNER and was due to be deployed on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini. Her acquisition meant that Golden Star Ferries was able to serve more islands on the Cyclades, and they benefitted largely from the departure of the HELLENIC HIGHSPEED from Rafina, as the latter moved to the Piraeus-Sifnos-Ios-Santorini line in order to fill the void left by the HIGHSPEED 6, which was sold in early 2017 to the Spanish company Naviera Armas. The successful service of the HELLENIC HIGHSPEED was not picked up by another ship of Hellenic Seaways, and therefore Golden Star Ferries had the opportunity to cement its presence in Rafina with the SUPERRUNNER and its two conventional ferries. The SUPERFERRY II was back in operation on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the SUPERFERRY was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line for her second season under her owners. In response to the introduction of the SUPERRUNNER, Sea Jets decided to enhance its services in Rafina by deploying two high speed ferries on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line. These were the PAROS JET, which would be departing from Rafina in the afternoon, and most notably the TERA JET, which would leave Rafina in the morning around the same time as the SUPERRUNNER. When the 2017 summer season began, both companies performed intense marketing campaigns in order to promote their services, while the TERA JET and the SUPERRUNNER would often race against each other (up until reaching Naxos) in order to see which ship would dock first in each of the ports of the Cyclades. Due to the additional competition provided by the three conventional ferries of Fast Ferries, which sailed under lower fares, Sea Jets decided to lower the normally high passenger fares for its high speed craft in Rafina, with a ticket from Rafina to Tinos with the TERA JET costing as little as €15! Golden Star Ferries strongly objected to these changes and also went on to lower its fares for all of its ships. The summer was also marked by numerous confrontations between the Stefanou brothers and Marios Iliopoulos. Despite the tumultuous atmosphere caused by this intense competition, both companies had a hugely successful summer. The deployment of the TERA JET was seen as a massive success by passengers, while the SUPERRUNNER also had an excellent year. She was a major factor in Golden Star Ferries being bestowed the 'Passenger Line of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards for 2017.

The SUPERRUNNER seen maneuvering in the port of Ios during the summer of 2017. This was her debut season under Golden Star Ferries, for whom she operated on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line. Her introduction to this service as the first high speed craft of the company proved to be a very successful move, as she contributed to the growth of Golden Star Ferries and its expansions to other destinations on the Cyclades.

The CHAMPION JET 2 seen leaving the port of Ios during the 2017 season. This was her third season under Sea Jets, and her first summer of the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, which she took over from her sister ship, the CHAMPION JET 1. The latter moved to the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, where the CHAMPION JET 2 had spent her first two seasons in Greek waters. For the 2017 season, the CHAMPION JET 2 was the only ship of Sea Jets linking Heraklion with the Cyclades, as the TERA JET was operating in Rafina, while the MEGA JET was chartered to Atlântico Line in order to serve the Azores Archipelago during the summer season. She headed there along with the MASTER JET.

Following yet another successful season and an ever-increasing rivalry, both Sea Jets and Golden Star Ferries began to prepare their plans for the 2018 season, which was due to experience yet another rise in passenger traffic on the Cyclades. After being satisfied with the successful operations of the SUPERRUNNER, Golden Star Ferries decided to make further investments in high speed craft, and to that end they purchased two passenger-only ships of that kind in late 2017 and early 2018. These new ships were the small high speed catamaran KAROLIN of the Estonian company Linda Line and the high speed trimaran KRILO ECLIPSE of the Croatian company Krilo Ferry. Both ships arrived in Greece during the winter in order to undergo their respective conversions that would enable them to operate on the Aegean Sea. The KAROLIN was renamed SUPERCAT, whereas the KRILO ECLIPE became the SUPERSPEED. In addition, in order to add further pressure to Sea Jets following the numerous clashes that they had with the company in Rafina, Golden Star Ferries decided to introduce a new very interesting service linking Rafina with Heraklion via the Cyclades. This consisted in having the SUPERFERRY and the SUPERFERRY II deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini-Heraklion line, with one ship departing from Rafina and the other one from Heraklion in the morning, before reaching the opposite final destination during the evening. This marked the first-ever connection of Rafina with Crete, and the move was made in order for Golden Star Ferries to take a part of the market share held by Sea Jets on the Heraklion-Cyclades service. Both companies also benefitted from the departure of Hellenic Seaways from the area, as the latter sold the HIGHSPEED 5 (which had been renamed HIGHSPEED 7 in 2016) to Minoan Lines. The ship remained on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos line as the SANTORINI PALACE, but her new owners' lack of experience in this service enabled Sea Jets to introduce more accommodating schedules for passengers and to strengthen their commercial relationships with travel agencies on the Cyclades and in Crete. In response to the deployment of the two ships of Golden Star Ferries on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini-Heraklion line, Sea Jets decided to add two ships on the Heraklion-Cyclades service. The first one was the CHAMPION JET 2, which had already been serving the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line since 2017, while the second one was the newly-refurbished MASTER JET, which was renamed CALDERA VISTA and was deployed on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Paros-Mykonos-Tinos-Syros line. In Rafina, the company once again had two ships, namely the TERA JET on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line and a new introduction, the NAXOS JET (previously the CYCLADES EXPRESS of NEL Lines and a sister ship of the CALDERA VISTA and of the SEA SPEED JET), which was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line. The PAROS JET was used a relief vessel for the company. In addition, Sea Jets also made investments in conventional ferries. This had started back in 2016, when they bought the laid-up ferry AQUA SPIRIT of NEL Lines and re-introduced her on her previous subsidised inter-Cyclades services. They then sold her in 2017 to the Canadian company BC Ferries, and they replaced her with the AQUA JEWEL of Alpha Ferries, which went on to be chartered to Atlântico Line in 2018 (and she was replaced on the inter-Cyclades lifeline by another high speed ferry acquired by the company in 2017, namely the ANDROS JET). In 2018, they went on to deploy the veteran ferry AQUA BLUE (previously the IERAPETRA L of LANE Lines/LANE Sea Lines and then of ANEK Lines) on a lengthy service linking Thessaloniki with the Sporades, the Cyclades and Crete. That ship, which spent her debut season under Sea Jets on the Thessaloniki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Santorini-Heraklion line, was meant to add further competition to the services of the SUPERFERRY and of the SUPERFERRY II. With that introduction, Golden Star Ferries once again responded by expanding their rivalry with Sea Jets on the Sporades, thereby deploying the SUPERSPEED on the Thessaloniki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line for her debut season. The SUPERCAT was also supposed to be deployed on the Sporades, but her conversion did not finish in time for the summer season.

The TERA JET seen docked in the port of Rafina during the 2018 season. This was her second season on the Rafina-Cyclades service, where she played an integral role for her company's growth. Her speed and her large size were key in assuring that Sea Jets would be the main operator on the Cyclades, despite the strong competition of Golden Star Ferries and Fast Ferries.

A view of the high speed ferry NAXOS JET, which is seen leaving the port of Mykonos during her debut season under Sea Jets. She spent the summer of 2018 on the Rafina-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line, being the second ship to link Rafina with the Cyclades, together with the TERA JET.

The iconic SUPERFERRY II of Golden Star Ferries seen arriving in the port of Paros during the summer of 2018. This was her eighth season under her company, and her twenty-sixth consecutive summer on the Rafina-Cyclades service. That year, together with the SUPERFERRY, she served the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini line, hence connecting Rafina with the Cyclades and Crete for the first time in her career. Her service there went well overall, although Golden Star Ferries did not meet the expected results in terms of passenger and freight traffic.

The perfect illustration of the Sea Jets-Golden Star Ferries rivalry, as suggested by this picture. Indeed, here we see the TERA JET and the SUPERRUNNER racing against one another, in order to see which ship will be the first one to dock in the port of Paros. Both high speed ferries had left the port of Mykonos simultaneously, and aimed to dock as soon as possible, just before the competitor. I had covered that race back when I was in Paros during the summer of 2018, for which you can find the related Blog post here.

Another view of the SUPERRUNNER and of the TERA JET racing against one another. Here, the high speed ferry of Golden Star Ferries had departed the port of Paros just before the flagship of Sea Jets, and both of them were heading towards the port of Naxos. For many Greek coastal service enthusiasts, their daily races reminded them of the famous confrontations of the iconic ferry NAÏAS II of Agapitos Lines and of the legendary PANAGIA TINOU of Ventouris Sea Lines during the early 1990s, when both ships would race along the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line.

As the 2018 season ended, most analysts were able to draw conclusions regarding the performances of the two companies. Overall, both of them were reasonably successful, but they did encounter some issues. Indeed, Sea Jets was praised for its new services, but many of its ships had engine failures. Moreover, the company was forced to cancel a few scheduled trips, and had the tendency to switch the ships that would perform a specific trip, sometimes with a late notice or even without warning passengers (although such actions frequently occurred during the summers of 2016 and of 2017 as well). The services of the AQUA BLUE were not particularly successful, and therefore the company did not repeat them in 2019. Nevertheless, the services of the TERA JET, the CHAMPION JET 1, the CHAMPION JET 2, the NAXOS JET and the SUPER JET were widely praised. In the case of Golden Star Ferries, while the SUPERRUNNER continued to be very successful, the SUPERFERRY and the SUPERFERRY II had encouraging performances but failed to offset Sea Jets on the Crete-Cyclades service. Moreover, the SUPERSPEED had an indifferent season on the Sporades, and therefore the company planned to have her on the Cyclades together with the SUPERCAT. The confrontation between the Stefanou brothers and Marios Iliopoulos continued, and both sides frequently argued over the legitimacy of their operations, with Golden Star Ferries accusing the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy of granting the services on the Cyclades based on the preferences of Sea Jets. The latter would criticise Golden Star Ferries for trying to imitate their business model through the deployment of high speed craft, and of using all means to have their services approved by the Ministry (with the brothers even performing a hunger strike in order to have the services of the SUPERFERRY and of the SUPERFERRY II approved!) and of tarnishing the reputation of Sea Jets. In the midst of all this chaos, the two companies prepared for the 2019 season by injecting new weapons on the Cyclades, either through new vessels or new services. At the end of the year, Sea Jets won the 'Passenger Line of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards for 2018, just a year after Golden Star Ferries had earned that same honour.

In anticipation of the 2019 season, Golden Star Ferries acquired yet another high speed craft, this time in collaboration with Fast Ferries. This was the high speed ferry EXPRESS, owned by the Swedish company Gotlandsbåten and chartered in 2018 to the Spanish company Naviera Armas in 2018. The ship arrived in Greece as the GOLDEN EXPRESS, and she was due to operate on the Rafina-Syros-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line as a second high speed ferry for Golden Star Ferries. The company also introduced services from Piraeus for the first time, in order to compete against Sea Jets. They announced that the SUPERSPEED would operate on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Mykonos-Tinos-Andros-Rafina line, while the SUPERCAT would be deployed on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line. The SUPERRUNNER would remain on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, whereas the SUPERFERRY and the SUPERFERRY II would continue their services from Rafina to the Cyclades and Crete, although Ios was removed from their itineraries. Sea Jets, on the other hand, made smart moves by having the SUPER JET and the SEA JET 2 operating together on Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, where one ship would perform the first leg in the morning and the return leg the following morning (and vice-versa). That way, the ships would not need to serve that many islands during the day and return to Piraeus very late at night, and this therefore limited the chances of the two ships having technical issues. The operations previously covered by the SUPER JET were taken over by another new ship introduced by Sea Jets, namely the high speed catamaran SIFNOS JET, which was deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Thirassia-Santorini-Ios line. Additionally, the CHAMPION JET 2 and the CALDERA VISTA continued their successful services on the Crete-Cyclades service, with the latter in particular having an excellent season on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos line. In Rafina, the company deployed the PAROS JET alongside the NAXOS JET, while also adding the AQUA BLUE as a third ship on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Ikaria-Samos line. The TERA JET, following two successful seasons in Rafina, moved to Piraeus in order to begin a new service on the Piraeus-Paros-Ios-Santorini line. However, the most important event of the year was the introduction of a new extremely fast high speed ferry, namely the WORLDCHAMPION JET, which had arrived in Greece after being acquired by Sea Jets in late 2018. Built in 2000 and previously the VILLUM CLAUSEN of the Danish company Bornholmer Færgen, she used to be the fastest passenger ship in the world, and held the record for the fastest speed ever recorded by a ferry from 2000 until 2013. Upon starting operations on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line (thereby replacing the CHAMPION JET 1 which spent the 2019 season under charter to Naviera Armas), she became the fastest ship in the Greek coastal service, and her service was a massive success. She remains to date the best ship of Sea Jets, and a major reason behind the company's good performances on the Central Cyclades. Overall, Sea Jets had an excellent season, with much less technical troubles (except for the ANDROS JET, the SIFNOS JET and the CHAMPION JET 2). They were further rewarded when the WORLDCHAMPION JET was bestowed the 'Ship of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards for 2019, hence becoming the third ship in the history of the Greek coastal service to win the prize.

Golden Star Ferries, on the other hand, had a very underwhelming season despite the very high expectations. Having gone from one ship in 2015 to six in 2019, many waited for them to even overtake operators such as Blue Star Ferries and Hellenic Seaways. However, all of its ships had technical issues. In particular, the SUPERSPEED and the SUPERCAT struggled with their engines in the early part of the season. As they were unable to perform their itineraries in time, Sifnos was dropped from the services of the SUPERCAT, as was Andros in the case of the SUPERSPEED. As the latter continued to experience several problems, it was decided that she would be switching her services with those of the GOLDEN EXPRESS. The latter had, by that time, been fully taken over by Golden Star Ferries following a dispute with Fast Ferries, and she was renamed SUPEREXPRESS. She was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Mykonos-Tinos-Andros-Rafina line, while the SUPERSPEED moved to the Rafina-Syros-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line. Despite these changes, the ships continued to experience severe technical issues and delayed trips. Ultimately, the SUPERSPEED had a major engine failure in Naxos in late July, and it was announced that her season would end without having a ship replacing her. The SUPERCAT also had some canceled trips, while the SUPEREXPRESS also struggled to make her itineraries in time, despite being praised for her impressive amenities and for the overall quality of her interior design. Only the three original ships of Golden Star Ferries had a decent season, but even the SUPERFERRY and the SUPERFERRY II failed to cement the company's presence in Crete, as they had originally hoped.

The CALDERA VISTA, previously known as the MASTER JET, seen leaving Santorini in order to head to Ios during the summer of 2019. This was her second season under her new name, and many have considered it to be her best summer in Greece in terms of performance. Indeed, she managed to maintain the dominance of Sea Jets on the Crete-Cyclades service, even going on to have more passengers than the SANTORINI PALACE of Minoan Lines, which had been the best ship in the area since 2013.

The SUPERCAT of Golden Star Ferries seen during her debut season under her owners, as she heads from Naxos to Ios in 2019. Brought by Golden Star Ferries in order to compete against the passenger-only catamarans of Sea Jets, she had a very inconsistent year, as she had many engine failures that prevented her from reaching her full potential as a high speed craft.

A view of the WORLDCHAMPION JET, which was a main factor behind the successful season of Sea Jets in 2019. In her first summer under her new owner, she immediately made an impact on the Cyclades, and she was praised for her speed and her impressive indoor areas. She most notably features an original Formula 1 race-car manufactured by Minardi and driven by the now-retired Dutch driver Jos Verstappen during the 2003-2004 Formula 1 season onboard her atrium area. Golden Star Ferries and other companies were unable to compete against her due to her superior technical characteristics.

The SUPEREXPRESS seen in the port of Piraeus at dawn during the summer of 2019. This was her first season under Golden Star Ferries, and she became the sixth ship and fourth high speed craft to operate for the company. Initially due to operate in Rafina, she was instead deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Mykonos-Tinos-Andros-Rafina line. Her first season was marred by engine troubles, but she was nevertheless praised for her impressive amenities and her refurbished indoor areas.

The PAROS JET seen leaving the port of Rafina during the 2019 season. She had returned on a full-time basis on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line, where she had also operated during the 2017 season. In addition, she was the first high speed ferry of Sea Jets to operate in Rafina, back when she served the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 2016. During the 2019 season, she operated alongside the NAXOS JET, while the TERA JET was moved to the Piraeus-Paros-Ios-Santorini line.

A view of two competing ferries departing the port of Rafina at the same time during the summer of 2019. These were the SUPERFERRY and the AQUA BLUE, and both were due to head to Andros, Tinos and Mykonos, before heading towards different directions. The SUPERFERRY was operating on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Santorini-Heraklion line, while the AQUA BLUE was spending her debut season on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Ikaria-Samos line. She therefore became the third ship of Sea Jets to operate in Rafina, and the only conventional ferry of the company to do so. The SUPERFERRY was again operating alongside the SUPERFERRY II, while Golden Star Ferries continued to have three ships in Rafina, as the SUPERRUNNER was operating on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line for the third summer in a row.

Following a tumultuous 2019 season, Golden Star Ferries sought to have a redemption season in 2020, while Sea Jets continued to make new acquisitions and to enter new areas of service. This was seen when the AQUA JEWEL was introduced on the Piraeus-Gytheion-Kythira-Antikythira-Kissamos lifeline, while the AQUA BLUE was given the subsidy contract on the Lavrion-Chios-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala lifeline on the Northeast Aegean Sea. However, the 2020 season proved to be a major disappointment for the Greek coastal service, as the tourist season was heavily impacted by the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. As such, many ships did not operate, including the high speed craft of Golden Star Ferries. The latter only had the SUPERFERRY back on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line and the SUPERFERRY II on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros line. Therefore, the company completely abandoned its services to Crete. They hoped for a return to normal conditions in 2021, and were planning to have the SUPEREXPRESS operating from Rafina, while the SUPERRUNNER would be sent to the Heraklion-Santorini-Naxos-Mykonos line in order to once again compete against Sea Jets and Minoan Lines. Furthermore, the company considered operating the SUPERSPEED and the SUPERCAT together on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos-Syros line, using the same operating pattern as the one used by Sea Jets with the SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET. However, these plans were canceled as Golden Star Ferries ultimately decided to proceed with the sale of four of its ships to Sea Jets. As a result of this, they will be left with only two ships, namely the SUPERFERRY and the SUPEREXPRESS.

The decision of Golden Star Ferries to sell two-thirds of its fleet to a rival operator was viewed as a shock for many people that follow the news of the Greek coastal service. At the same time, if we look at the way in which the two companies grew during the 2010s and the extent to which the desperately tried to outperform each other, such a move was perhaps due to happen. On paper, it is suggested that Sea Jets won the battle, as they are now ready to further expand their operation on the Cyclades, now that they have four more ships joining their fleet, including three high speed craft. In addition, they are acquiring a legendary ship, namely the SUPERFERRY II, which has been a major key to the success of all her previous owners ever since she arrived in Greece. To that end, she will be a fine addition to the company, which had notably started buying more conventional ferries in order to deploy on various lifelines and other prominent services (on another note, they are considering to buy a new ferry that would enter service on the Sporades). Moreover, the acquisition of these four vessels means that Sea Jets will no longer need to worry about the presence of Golden Star Ferries on the Piraeus-Cyclades service and on the Crete-Cyclades service, meaning that they will have more flexibility to perform their itineraries at feasible timetables without any serious competition. It remains to be seen, however, how the company will operate in Rafina, as Golden Star Ferries will keep its two remaining ferries there. So far, Sea Jets has not announced any planned itineraries on the Rafina-Cyclades service, and it will be interesting to see whether they will be deploying one of their four new ships there, against the company that used to own them. Moreover, consider that the competition from Rafina will remain prominent, as Fast Ferries continues to thrive with its three conventional ferries, and they are due to deploy the EKATERINI P on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Koufonisi line, which will be a new service for the ship following a two-year absence (she missed the 2019 season due to a serious engine failure, and she was only repaired during the 2020 season), while Hellenic Seaways plans to deploy the high speed catamaran FLYINGCAT 3 on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line.

From the perspective of Golden Star Ferries, one may suggest that ceding four of their ships means that they have signaled their intent to capitulate against their main rivals. There are even rumours suggesting that they aim to leave the Greek coastal service altogether, as the Stefanou brothers have been frustrated by the past few seasons and the alleged bias regarding the services of Sea Jets. I personally do not believe that this is the case, otherwise they would have also found a way to also get rid of the SUPERFERRY and of the SUPEREXPRESS. Considering the incredible amenities of both ships and the affordability of second-hand ferries under the current market conditions, they would not have hesitated to give away these vessels, yet they still plans on deploying them on the Cyclades for the 2021 season. On the contrary, I believe that they took the decision to sell their four vessels in order to free themselves from any financial liabilities that they had (as the company began to have financial issues in 2020), and their inexperience in operating high speed craft proved to be a major hurdle during the 2019 season, as most of the ships were under poor technical conditions. To be fair, even before they joined Golden Star Ferries, the three high speed craft that arrived between 2017 and 2019 all had a history of mechanical troubles. Indeed, the SUPERCAT had several engine failures back when she was operating on the Tallinn-Helsinki line under Linda Line, while the SUPERSPEED had an indifferent spell on the Tsushima Strait as the ULSAN DOLPHIN of of the South Korean company Ferry Ulsan, although she did have a rather good spell during her lone season on the Adriatic Sea as the KRILO ECLIPSE of Krilo Ferry. The SUPEREXPRESS, on the other hand, has had a very inconsistent career, as she encountered many engine failures during her spell with P&O Ferries, while she operated for three different companies in as many seasons prior to joining Golden Star Ferries. As such, one may suggest that the company did not make good choices, and they rather tried to get whichever high speed craft was available in order to desperately outperform Sea Jets on the Cyclades. However, the latter has been an established operator of high speed craft ever since they began operations in 2004, and, despite their flaws, they have continued to grow at an impressive pace over the past decade. As such, one may think that the competition was lost from the start, however Golden Star Ferries did encounter much success with the SUPERRUNNER, which was the only high speed craft of the company that performed very well and that was rarely affected by engine troubles. Therefore, it is rather odd for that specific ship to leave the company, unless the fee proposed by Sea Jets was deemed very satisfactory by Golden Star Ferries. Overall, the latter simply seems to be taking steps backwards in order to clear themselves of all liabilities (both financial and technical, as most of the high speed craft that they owned caused the company many problems during the summer of 2019) and to reassert their strategy on the Aegean Sea. That is, they will most likely only focus on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line where they have been a household name ever since beginning their operations there in 2011, and they will no longer have to make any desperate moves such as employing two ferries from Rafina to Crete, where they unable to outperform Sea Jets. Finally, they also have the chance to renew their fleet with the departure of the SUPERFERRY II, which, despite her status as an iconic ship of the Greek costal service, is nevertheless 47 years old, hence her maintenance costs will continue to increase as she becomes even older. Therefore, the company is able keep two ships that have incredible indoor areas, with the SUPERFERRY having been an established ship on the Cyclades since her introduction to service in 2016, while the SUPEREXPRESS can easily be one of the best high speed ferries of Greece if her engines are properly maintained. Even though they are losing two ships that played an important role for the company (the SUPERFERRY II and the SUPERRUNNER), Golden Star Ferries could potentially fully dedicate themselves to the Rafina-Cyclades service with two ships, and potentially seek to buy a new conventional ferry in the future, depending on the ferry market conditions.

A view of the SUPERFERRY as she is seen leaving the port of Gavrion in Andros in order to head towards Tinos during the summer of 2020. As things stand, she will be the only conventional ferry of Golden Star Ferries, as the SUPERFERRY II is due to join Sea Jets. She will therefore continue to have a major role for her company on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the SUPEREXPRESS will join her in order to perform seasonal services on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros-Ios-Santorini line.

Based on the information that I have, the four ships are due to be delivered to Sea Jets at regular intervals over the next few months. Indeed, the SUPERRUNNER is due to be delivered in May in order to begin service for the company during the 2021 summer season. The SUPERSPEED and the SUPERCAT are planned for delivery at some point during August, while the SUPERFERRY II is due to be delivered after completing the summer season with Golden Star Ferries, meaning that this will probably happen at some point during the fall (between late October to early November). As part of her last season under Golden Star Ferries, the ship will serve the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros line, hence returning there for the first time since 2016. The SUPERFERRY will remain on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the SUPEREXPRESS will begin operations on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros-Ios-Santorini line, hence taking over the service left by the SUPERRUNNER. As the SUPERSPEED and the SUPERCAT are joining Sea Jets during the summer, that means that they will not be operating for the second season in a row. Therefore, they are most likely due to begin operations for Sea Jets in 2022, assuming that they have no technical deficiencies. It will be interesting to see where Sea Jets plans to deploy them, considering that they already have three established passenger-only high speed craft on the Cyclades.

The SUPERFERRY II seen maneuvering in Andros during the summer of 2020. As it appears, this upcoming season will be her final one under Golden Star Ferries. She will therefore leave the company after 10 years, having been their first-ever ship and the reason behind their growth. I do hope that Sea Jets will continue to operate her on the Rafina-Cyclades service, where she has been such an acclaimed ship since 1993.

The SUPEREXPRESS seen docked in Piraeus in 2020. After a challenging start to her career in Greece, she is now ready to have a more prominent role for Golden Star Ferries, as she is due to operate on their popular service on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros-Ios-Santorini line. She is therefore the official successor of the successful SUPERRUNNER, which will now be a part of the fleet of Sea Jets. If she has no technical issues, the SUPEREXPRESS can easily become a vital weapon for her company, as her size, passenger capacity and indoor areas give her many advantages compared to other Greek high speed craft.

The TERA JET seen racing against the SUPERRUNNER in Paros during the 2018 season. After having been fierce rivals for two seasons, the two high speed ferries will now be fleetmates, as both of them are now under the ownership of Sea Jets. Who would have thought that this event would happen three years ago?

The SUPERRUNNER seen in Piraeus during the summer of 2020, which eventually proved to be her final one under the livery of Golden Star Ferries. Indeed, she will now undergo all necessary preparations in order to begin service for her new owners. Sea Jets will be the third Greek company for which the ship will operate, after having served Aegean Speed Lines from 2009 to 2016, and Golden Star Ferries from 2017 to 2021.

According to the rumours that have been circulating across Greek coastal service platforms, the SUPERRUNNER will likely be renamed SUPERRUNNER JET. She is also rumoured to be deployed outside of the Cyclades for the first time in her career, as it is suggested that she will enter a new subsidised service introduced by her company on the Sporades, on the Thessaloniki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos-Mantoudi line. She will therefore link Thessaloniki with the Sporades and Evoia. If such a move is to occur, then we will undoubtedly talk about Sea Jets becoming one of the two main protagonists of the Greek coastal service alongside Attica Group. Indeed, they have gone from a fleet of just three vessels in 2011 to a fleet of 20 ships just ten years later (with that number reaching 21 vessels once the SUPERFERRY II is delivered to the company later in the year). This includes 18 high speed craft and two conventional ferries (which will become three with the addition of the SUPERFERRY II). Following this transaction, the company now has the largest fleet in Greece, surpassing that of Hellenic Seaways. Moreover, it continues its expansion across the Aegean Sea, going beyond the Cyclades as it will now serve the Sporades (where it aims to establish itself with the rumoured purchase of a conventional ferry), in addition to serving the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Kythira-Antikythira lifeline. With three new high speed craft and one new conventional ferry, the company clearly has the ambition to further assert its dominance, and its large fleet size gives it the flexibility to operate all vessels respective to the demand and the passenger traffic numbers of each service they already operate it, or new ones that they plan on introducing in the future. In any case, this transaction has been one of the most defining moments of the Greek coastal service in recent years, and I am certain that its effects will last for quite some time, as I believe that the battle between Sea Jets and Golden Star Ferries is far from over. The former continues its remarkable growth, while the latter takes the time to redesign its strategy in order to have a stronger presence on the ever-growing Rafina-Cyclades service. It will be very interesting to see how things will evolve and how Sea Jets is going to utilise its four new ships, including two that have experienced mediocre results on the Aegean Sea. They do, however, acquire an excellent high speed ferry and a legendary ferry which, despite nearing half-a-century of service, remains a valuable asset for any company operating on the Cyclades.

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