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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

In The News: Sale of the NISSOS KEFALONIA by Kefalonian Lines to Levante Ferries

The NISSOS KEFALONIA seen leaving Kyllini in order to head towards Kefalonia, during the summer of 2016.

This post is written in order to inform readers about one of the most shocking news in the recent history of the Greek coastal service, as the ferry NISSOS KEFALONIA of Kefalonian Lines, which had been operating for the latter since 2013, was sold to their rival operator, namely Levante Ferries, based on an announcement made by both companies. These news are especially surprising due to the fact that the best ship of the company was sold to its direct fierce rival, and, as a result, the overall picture of the coastal service on the Ionian Sea will be completely different in 2019. Indeed, besides the sale of the NISSOS KEFALONIA, Kefalonian Lines announced their intentions to leave the Ionian Sea altogether, while the other company operating there, Zante Ferries, will sell the ferry ANDREAS KALVOS to Levante Ferries as well. This therefore simply means that there will be just one company serving the islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia from Kyllini, namely Levante Ferries.

The post marks the start of the 'In The News' series on my blog, during which major news affecting the Greek coastal service (and mainly the ships that are part of this website) will be analysed in depth, with all the information and the backgrounds of the involved ships, companies and markets being provided to you. As this sale concerns the two main companies that were operating so far in Zakynthos (one of the two islands in which I go to every summer), these news will be affecting me as well, as I foresee that I would only be seeing yellow ships sailing to the island in the upcoming years.

To have a better look at the news, it is important to provide you with some essential historical context dating from five years ago. Indeed, in early 2013, there are rumours regarding the reactivation of the ferry KEFALONIA of Strintzis Ferries, which had been laid-up in Salamina and then in Drapetsona for 16 months. This was due to her company facing very serious economic difficulties in the middle of the Greek financial crisis. The KEFALONIA had been serving the Kyllini-Kefalonia line in 2011, while her other Strintzis Ferries fleetmate, the EPTANISOS, was on the company's main service, namely on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line. It was on the latter that the KEFALONIA had been operating from 1995 to 2010, whereupon she became the most acclaimed ferry in the history of the Ionian Sea. Built in 1975 as the VENUS of the Japanese company Higashi Nihon Ferry, she had been bought from Japan by the Greek company Strintzis Lines in 1995. She operated for them from 1995 until 2000, when they were taken over by Attica Group, which rebranded the company as Blue Star Ferries. The KEFALONIA continued to serve the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line under the new company, until 2004, when she was sold to Strintzis Ferries, which had started operations in 2003 after having introduced the EPTANISOS on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. In 2012, following the problems caused by the Greek financial crisis on the Greek coastal service, Strintzis Ferries were forced to abandon the Kyllini-Kefalonia line served by the KEFALONIA, instead maintaining the EPTANISOS on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line until she herself was no longer able to keep the company profitable. In late 2012, Strintzis Ferries officially ceased operations, and ceded the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line to the Ionian Ferries joint venture (a Zakynthos-based joint venture which at the time included the traditional local companies Zante Ferries and Tyrogalas Ferries, each with two ships). The EPTANISOS and the KEFALONIA were laid-up in Drapetsona. While the former was believed to be reactivated within a short period of time due to her respectable age (23 at the time) and her recent service during the 2012 season, the latter was rumoured to have been sold for scrap, as she was 37 years old and had not been operating since late 2011.

Ultimately, shortly before the 2013 spring season was due to start, it was announced that the KEFALONIA was sold by Strintzis Ferries to the newly-established company Kefalonian Lines, which was an entity owned by a group of Kefalonia-based businessmen under the leadership of the Lykoudis family which sought to operate the ship in Kefalonia. The news were met with much excitement from the Ionian Sea residents and passengers, as the legendary ferry was spared from going to the scrapyards. She was refitted in Piraeus, was renamed NISSOS KEFALONIA, and resumed service on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line shortly before the start of the 2013 summer season. Her entry to service was very successful, and it also marked the return of significant competition on the Ionian Sea, as the Ionian Ferries joint venture (which had also seen the addition of the reactivated company ANEZ in early 2013) had been the sole operator from Kyllini. In the meantime, the EPTANISOS remained laid-up until 2015, when she was sold to Fast Ferries, becoming the FAST FERRIES ANDROS and being deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line on the Cyclades. At the end of the 2013 season, Kefalonian Lines also began to deploy the NISSOS KEFALONIA on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, thus further strengthening the competition against Ionian Ferries.

In 2014, Kefalonian Lines continued to rise and to change the overall landscape of the Ionian Sea coastal service, as they chartered the ferry ZAKYNTHOS 1 of ANEZ (which had departed the Ionian Ferries joint venture earlier that year). Anticipating a fierce competition on both the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line, Ionian Ferries withdrew from the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, leaving it without a ship for the entire year. By the end of the summer season, the NISSOS KEFALONIA and the ZAKYNTHOS 1 were operating against the IONIAN STAR and the IONIS of Tyrogalas Ferries, and the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS and the ANDREAS KALVOS of Zante Ferries.

The NISSOS KEFALONIA maneuvering in Kyllini in 2014, during her second season under Kefalonian Lines.

While the competition on the Ionian Sea was smooth thanks to all ferries being already established in the area for more than ten years, the end of the year 2014 would mark an unexpected introduction of a new company, which would eventually take over the market. Indeed, that was Levante Ferries, a Zakynthos-based company founded in 2012 by the shipowner Georgios Theodosis, which deployed the astonishing ferry FIOR DI LEVANTE, which was formerly known as the HYUNDAI SEOLBONG of the South Korean company Dong Yang Express Ferry Company. She had undergone a major conversion in China between 2012 and 2014, during which she was entirely remodeled, and her indoor areas madeher a very luxurious and impressive day ferry. She began operations in late 2014 on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line, and immediately made an impact due to her advantageous amenities in contrast to the ships owned by the other companies. Moreover, she was awarded the prize of 'The Best Ferry in the World' in 2015 by Shippax, which is a major ferry newspaper covering the industry worlwide.

The amazing FIOR DI LEVANTE seen in Kyllini during the summer of 2016.

The introduction of the FIOR DI LEVANTE had several major consequences on the Ionian Sea during the 2015 season. Indeed, Tyrogalas Ferries was forced to abandon the area, initially by deploying the IONIS on the Saronic Gulf (and eventually selling her to the Aegina-based company Leve Ferries a year later), and then by selling the IONIAN STAR to Levante Ferries. By acquiring the latter (which was renamed MARE DI LEVANTE in 2016), Levante Ferries cemented their presence on the Ionian Sea and had abruptly removed a company that had been operating in the area since 1973. As Tyrogalas Ferries ceased to operate on the Ionian Sea (and eventually ceased to exist in 2016), the Ionian Ferries joint venture was discontinued. Zante Ferries, in the meantime, had sent the ANDREAS KALVOS to the Western Cyclades, where they had been operating their third ferry and flagship, the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS, since 2009. Only the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS was operating on the Ionian Sea, and without Tyrogalas Ferries, her owners seemed vulnerable against Levante Ferries and Kefalonian Lines. Eventually, the former decided to create a new joint venture called Ionian Group. It included both Levante Ferries and Zante Ferries, and the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS was sent to operate on the reactivated Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line for the rest of the summer. As a result, the new main competing forces on the Ionian Sea consisted of Ionian Group (with two ships from Levante Ferries and one ship from Zante Ferries) and Kefalonian Lines (with two ships).

The upgraded ticket agencies in the port of Kyllini during the summer of 2016. These are the ones of the Ionian Group joint venture, which consisted of Levante Ferries and Zante Ferries. For the 2016 season, the former had notably chartered the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER III of Aegean Speed Lines, which was deployed on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line.

The Kefalonian Lines ticket agencies in Kyllini in 2016. A post analysing the infrastructural changes in the port can be seen here.

In the summer of 2016, Kefalonian Lines spent considerable money by renovating the ZAKYNTHOS 1 during her annual winter refit (despite the ship being 43 years old at the time), and decided that she would solely operate on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line, while the NISSOS KEFALONIA would serve the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. During that summer, there was a very fierce competition with Levante Ferries and Zante Ferries, which resulted in numerous price wars and heated confrontations, with Kefalonian Lines accusing the Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy of giving them inadequate timetables for their ships to operate. Additionally, the company announced that they had purchased a new ferry which would enter service in late 2016. However, nothing happened, with only the NISSOS KEFALONIA and the ZAKYNTHOS 1 sailing for Kefalonian Lines at the start of 2017. After another very intense summer season in 2017 (during which the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS underwent a conversion in order to be deployed on the Western Cyclades, with the ANDREAS KALVOS returning to the Ionian Sea after two years on the Aegean Sea), the two main operators continued to see their rivalry becoming more intense. In the meantime, Kefalonian Lines suffered a major disadvantage during that year. Indeed, having previously relied on KTEL buses (the main inter-city bus network in Greece) connecting Athens with Kefalonia, (while Ionian Group relied on KTEL buses connecting Athens with Zakynthos), the latter instead decided to operate according to the services of Ionian Group. This resulted in the company losing a considerable amount of passengers. They then decided to reactivate the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line in late 2017 (which had been discontinued since the end of the 2016 season, after the SPEEDRUNNER III returned to Aegean Speed Lines) by having the NISSOS KEFALONIA combine her services on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line with her formerly-acclaimed service. She was thus deployed on a rather odd itinerary, which consisted of the new Patras-Ithaca-Kefalonia-Kyllini line.

The following year turned out to be one of one of the most eventful ones for all three operators. Indeed, at the start of 2018, while maintaining their services both from Kyllini and Patras, Kefalonian Lines announced that they had purchased the veteran ferry MYRTIDIOTISSA of Aqua Ferries, which had been operating on the Agios Konstantinos-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line on the Sporades since 2016. Built in 1975 in Japan just like the NISSOS KEFALONIA, she has been operating in Greece for 30 years. She was previously the well-known ANEMOS of the now-defunct company Nomicos Lines (1988-1999), then briefly the EXPRESS ANEMOS of Minoan Flying Dolphins (1999-2000), before having stints as the MYRTIDOTISSA under the now-defunct company ANEN Lines (2000-2010) and as the AQUA MARIA of the similarly-defunct company NEL Lines (2010-2016) before joining Aqua Ferries (which also ended-up ceasing operations after selling the ship to Kefalonian Lines). Despite the ship being already old and serving mostly as a cruiseferry, Kefalonian Lines decided to spend a considerable amount of money in order to refit her for service on both the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and the Kyllini-Kefalonia line as a day ferry. The ship was fully renovated in Drapetsona and was renamed ALEXANDRA L. Immediately after acquiring that ship, Kefalonian Lines also announced that they had bought the ANDREAS KALVOS from Zante Ferries. As a result, ahead of the 2018 summer season, Kefalonian Lines had a line-up of four ships (namely the NISSOS KEFALONIA, the ZAKYNTHOS 1, the ANDREAS KALVOS and the ALEXANDRA L), which was twice the amount of ships owned by Levante Ferries (which still had the FIOR DI LEVANTE and the MARE DI LEVANTE at the time). However, while things looked promising, the events that followed throughout the rest of the year proved disastrous for the company, which ended-up with them having no ships operating on the Ionian Sea.

The ANDREAS KALVOS seen on the Ionian Sea during the summer of 2017. She had previously spent the summers of 2015 and of 2016 on the Western Cyclades, on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos line, before she was replaced by the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS. Prior to the start of the 2018 summer season, she was supposedly bought by Kefalonian Lines, although this transaction eventually brought a lot of chaos to the Ionian Sea.

The ALEXANDRA L seen on the Ionian Sea, heading from Zakynthos to Kyllini. A well-known ship in Greece which has been to almost all Aegean Sea ports, she made her debut on the Ionian Sea under Kefalonian Lines in 2018, although this first season eventually became her only one as her company decided to shut down operations on the Ionian Sea later this year.

The events preceding and following the 2018 summer season eventually brought considerable turmoil within Kefalonian Lines. Indeed, the ANDREAS KALVOS was supposed to have been delivered to the company, however Zante Ferries did not manage to hand over the ship in due time. There are allegations stating that Levante Ferries, the partner of Zante Ferries through Ionian Group, did not want the ship to depart the joint venture and join their main rivals. A sale of the ship to Kefalonian Lines would have required the banks regulating Zante Ferries and the joint venture to give their approval, but this did not happen as, in the long term, Levante Ferries wanted to buy the ship for themselves. As a result, the ANDREAS KALVOS remained with Zante Ferries during the summer of 2018. At the same time that Kefalonian Lines had reportedly announced that the ship would join them, the company suffered another major blow. Indeed, the ZAKYNTHOS 1 had a major engine failure and was forced to head to Drapetsona so that she could be repaired. Eventually, the ship was left abandoned there, as the company preferred to invest on the conversion of the ALEXANDRA L. The latter began operations on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line, while the NISSOS KEFALONIA continued to serve the Patras-Ithaca-Kefalonia-Kyllini line. Eventually, the summer season saw both ships of Kefalonian Lines underperforming, while Levante Ferries, notably thanks to the partnerships with KTEL, had the upper hand.

After the season ended, Kefalonian Lines continued to struggle economically. While the NISSOS KEFALONIA and the ALEXANDRA L were still operating, the ZAKYNTHOS 1 was still laid-up and not repaired, while there were also reports that the service on the Patras-Ithaca-Kefalonia-Kyllini line was unprofitable. Furthermore, no revenues were being made, and the company allegedly had significant amounts of debt, with them having failed to pay their crews and the required port fees for several months. Finally, just a few days ago, Kefalonian Lines announced their intentions to leave the Ionian Sea by selling their main ship, the legendary NISSOS KEFALONIA, to Levante Ferries. Their announcement was the following:

'Kefalonian Lines officially announce the end of their operations in Zakynthos and Kefalonia by deciding to deploy the ALEXANDRA L in another area of the Greek coastal service and by selling the NISSOS KEFALONIA to the fellow company Levante Ferries. The Company, having been impacted by long-standing and unprecedented-for the standards of the Greek coastal service-"persecution" by political and other entities, especially after 2015, reported, on the aforementioned services, significant economic losses, which no longer enables us to operate there. The economic losses became even more large during the past year, when we decided to serve the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, which resulted in costs that exceeded €2.5 million. It is therefore our ethical obligation to hand over the service on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line to Ionian Group. We want to thank all sailours and the people from the islands that we have been serving for their long-standing support of the Company, which will now be operating in other areas in our country.

With best regards,

Kefalonian Lines.'

And thus, after more than five years of operations, Kefalonian Lines have decided to abandon the Ionian Sea. And as suggested by this announcement, it was the so-called 'persecution' of the company by various parties, most notably political entities (and specifically the Ministry of Shipping and Insular Policy) which had an alleged bias towards their competitors, which supposedly is the reason behind their underperforming financial results in recent years. While they confirm their intentions to operate on the Aegean Sea with the ALEXANDRA L, this seems like a long shot. Indeed, the economic losses and their large amount of debt owed to their crews, the port authorities and the shipyards, will not guarantee any chance of survival on a similarly-demanding area. Besides, services on the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, the Northeast Aegean Sea, Crete and the Saronic Gulf are well covered. The only exception could be the Sporades, where the ALEXANDRA L used to operate, but that will also require significant operating costs. With the 45-year-old ZAKYNTHOS 1 laid-up and with no repaired engines, the ship is very likely to never operate for Kefalonian Lines again. The NISSOS KEFALONIA is set to join Levante Ferries in order to resume service on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. Similarly, the ANDREAS KALVOS, which was supposed to join Kefalonian Lines, has now been sold to Levante Ferries as well. Indeed, the latter had successfully managed to block the sale to their rivals, and they now have the chance to operate her under their own terms. This means that Zante Ferries will also leave the Ionian Sea, as they no longer have a ship operating there. Instead, their two ships, the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS and the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS, operate on the Western Cyclades. Without Zante Ferries, Ionian Group will cease to exist as a joint venture. Furthermore, Levante Ferries is now set to have a monopoly on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line, on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line and on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, while owning four ships. It is very astonishing to see that, at the start of the year Kefalonian Lines were supposed to have four ships on the Ionian Sea, and now they are left with none. Instead, Levante Ferries is the one that has four ships, and will be taking over the Ionian Sea for the next few years.

From rivals to fleetmates: The FIOR DI LEVANTE and the NISSOS KEFALONIA are both seen in Kyllini in 2016, back when their companies engaged in a fierce competition on the Ionian Sea. The NISSOS KEFALONIA is now set to be painted in yellow, just like the FIOR DI LEVANTE.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE and the NISSOS KEFALONIA seen in Kyllini during the summer of 2016. The two best ships of the Ionian Sea will now be operating under the same company, namely the fast-growing Levante Ferries.

The ALEXANDRA L seen in Zakynthos during the summer of 2018. Her future is, yet again, uncertain. She is said to be returning to the Aegean Sea, although I have a feeling that it will not be under Kefalonian Lines, which are very likely to cease operations altogether. She could potentially be acquired by a company like Sea Jets, which does not mind investing in older ferries? The future will determine this, I guess.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 seen in Drapetsona during the summer of 2018. Just like the ALEXANDRA L, her future is very uncertain, especially considering her old age and the fact that she has not been repaired since suffering her engine failure. A return to ANEZ (which have been inactive since 2014) could be a possibility, but it is not guaranteed that she will operate again under them. Perhaps she could be sold for scrap? The future will probably determine this.

The summer of 2019 on the Ionian Sea will be very interesting, although there will only be one operator, and no joint venture for the first time since 1993. It is impressive to see that, in less than four years, Levante Ferries managed to remove all three major companies serving Zakynthos and Kefalonia, while also buying a ship from each one of them. Indeed, they purchased the IONIAN STAR from Tyrogalas Ferries, the ANDREAS KALVOS from Zante Ferries and the NISSOS KEFALONIA from Kefalonian Lines. The latter two are due to undergo their refits in order to make their debuts for their new owner in early 2019. Considering the fantastic job the company did when converting the FIOR DI LEVANTE, it is is certain that both ships will return fully-renovated and with significant upgrades in their indoor areas. It is not known whether they will be renamed. But what is certain is that, five years after saving the legendary KEFALONIA from going to the scrapyards (to the delight of the passengers of the Ionian Sea), Kefalonian Lines now belongs to history, with two veteran ferries having an uncertain future ahead of them.

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