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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

In The News: Sale of the SPEEDRUNNER III by Aegean Speed Lines to Sea Jets

The SPEEDRUNNER III seen departing the port of Piraeus in order to head to the Western Cyclades during the summer of 2021.

Only one year after completing one of the most notable transactions of the Greek coastal service, during which it acquired four ships from the rival operator Golden Star Ferries, the Greek company Sea Jets once again finds itself at the centre of much attention within the Greek ferry market after buying yet another notable high speed craft. Indeed, just a few days ago, the high speed ferry SPEEDRUNNER III of Aegean Speed Lines performed her final trip under the latter's ownership, as she is also due to join the major company owned by Marios Iliopoulos. The ship had already began operating for what was believed to be her sixth consecutive season on the Western Cyclades, but, ultimately, the deal between the two companies was completed and she was withdrawn from service. With the SPEEDRUNNER III joining Sea Jets, there are two major changes in the landscape of the Greek coastal service. The first one is that Sea Jets will now be the sole operator of high speed craft on the Western Cyclades, and one of only two companies linking these islands with Piraeus (the other one being Zante Ferries, which operates the conventional ferry DIONISIOS SOLOMOS on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line). The second and most defining one is that Aegean Speed Lines will cease to exist as a company, after 17 years of operations on the Cyclades and after having deployed four different high speed ferries during that timespan. While its owner, Leonidas Dimitriadis-Evgenidis, states that he will return to the Greek coastal service in some other capacity, it will definitely not be with high speed craft, as Sea Jets has now become a force to be reckoned with on the Cyclades. Indeed, they now have a fleet of 24 vessels, of which 18 are active (assuming that the SPEEDRUNNER III immediately begins operations for the company). The active fleet consists of ten high speed ferries, four passenger-only high speed catamarans, and four conventional ferries that operate under the Sea Jets Ferries brandname. With such numbers, the company now has the largest fleet in the Greek coastal service (excluding companies that operate local tour boats and small passenger boats such as the Santorini Boatmen Union), and is present across all parts of the Aegean Sea except for the Saronic Gulf. And this is considering the fact that, only ten years ago, that very same company owned just four ships. Its impressive growth, which began during the mid 2010s, does not appear like it will be stopping anytime soon, and this was further confirmed by the fact that they bought yet another ship from a notable competitor. This 'In The News' post aims to analyse how the SPEEDRUNNER III was eventually bought by Sea Jets, and how this will have an impact on the Cyclades, as well as on the Aegean Sea as whole.

As it has also been the case with previous 'In The News' posts on this Blog, I will provide a thorough historical background for both companies, and analyse the performances of their operations in the most recent seasons. Regarding Aegean Speed Lines, the latter was established in 2005, initially as a joint venture between the Evgenidis Group led by the Sifnos-based shipowner Leonidas Dimitriadis-Evgenidis and the British conglomerate Sea Containers. The latter owned and managed several companies in Northern Europe, including the Isle of Mann Steam Packet Company on the Irish Sea from 1996 to 2003, and the British companies Hoverspeed and SeaCat on the Channel and on the Irish Sea, respectively. They also operated the SuperSeaCat brandname on the Finnish Gulf in 2000, while having also attempted to operate on the Adriatic Sea under the Superseacat Italia brandname in 1998, although this project never materialised. At the time during which Aegean Speed Lines was formed, Sea Containers was experiencing a significant decline in its services due to financial issues. They therefore made a desperate final attempt in maintaining their ferry portfolio profitable by deploying a high speed craft on the Cyclades. The latter had seen a significant rise in passenger traffic and the addition of several newbuildings by companies such as Blue Star Ferries and Alpha Ferries. However, the most notable additions were those of newly-built high speed craft by companies such as Minoan Flying Dolphins (which became Hellas Flying Dolphins before being rebranded as Hellenic Seaways in 2005) and NEL Lines. With the Greek coastal service undergoing a vast modernisation highlighted by the deployment of multiple high speed craft on the Aegean Sea, Sea Containiers and the Evgenidis Group decided to enter the market. To that end, they planned to operate on the Western Cyclades, an area well-known by Leonidas Dimitriadis-Evgenidis due to his Sifnian roots. They brought in the high speed ferry ÉMERAUDE GREAT BRITAIN, which had been chartered to the now-defunct French company Émeraude Ferries. Built in 1990, she was previously the HOVERSPEED GREAT BRITAIN of Hoverspeed and then of SeaCat, and had spent most of her career on the Channel. The ship was renamed SPEEDRUNNER I and was deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Paros line for the 2005 season. There, she notably competed against the conventional ferries of Hellenic Seaways, GA Ferries and Ventouris Sea Lines, as well as another high speed craft, namely the SUPER JET of Sea Jets. The latter was spending her second season under her owner, and she was serving the Piraeus-Kythnos-Milos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Irakleia-Schoinousa line. Built in 1995 for the Greek company Strintzis Lines as the SEA JET 1, she was one of the first high speed catamarans to operate on the Cyclades. She stayed with her original owners until 2000, when Strintzis Lines was taken over by Attica Group, which resulted in the establishment of Blue Star Ferries. To that end, the SEA JET 1 and her sister ship and fleetmate, the SEA JET 2, which had been delivered to Strintzis Lines in 1998, both joined the Blue Star Jets division. The SEA JET 1 operated for them for two years, before being sold to the Greek company Aegean Jet Maritime, which was under the control of the Iliopoulos family. The latter has had a lengthy experience in shipping, and first began operations in the Greek coastal service in 1989, when it launched the company Ilio Lines, which deployed several hydrofoils on the Cyclades and in Crete. They also operated the company Saronic Dolphins on the Saronic Gulf beginning in 2001. After the acquisition of the SEA JET 1 (which was renamed JET ONE in 2002) and the subsequent establishment of Sea Jets in 2004 (after which the JET ONE was renamed SUPER JET), Marios Iliopoulos, the man in charge of the companies, discontinued the operations of Ilio Lines and Saronic Dolphins. After deploying the SUPER JET on the Rafina-Samos-Ikaria-Patmos-Leipsoi-Leros during the 2004 season, he then decided to bring her back to the Cyclades, where she found herself competing against the SPEEDRUNNER I. The two high speed craft had a very good season in 2005, and Sea Jets decided to further strengthen its presence on the Western Cyclades, as Hellenic Seaways was slowly beginning to retreat from the area. As such, the SUPER JET was deployed on the Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line for the 2006 season. The SPEEDRUNNER I operated on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros line during that year and she ultimately proved to be more successful on the Western Cyclades (despite suffering from technical difficulties from late july 2006 to early August 2006). During that same year, Sea Containers went bankrupt, and therefore Aegean Speed Lines was fully taken over by the Evgenides Group.

Following two successful seasons, Aegean Speed Lines decided to further expand its fleet in 2007, and they therefore bought their first high speed ferry, namely the TALLINK AUTOEXPRESS 4 of the Estonian company Tallink (and previously the STENA PEGASUS of the Swedish giants Stena Line), which was renamed SPEEDRUNNER II. Built in 1996 in Italy, she arrived in Greece just before the 2007 season, and following a quick conversion, she was inserted on the Western Cyclades, on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Sikinos-Folegandros-Paros-Santorini line. She therefore complemented the services of the SPEEDRUNNER I, which operated on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Paros-Santorini line. Both services went well, although the SPEEDRUNNER II did not always sail at full-speed. During that year, Sea Jets did not deploy any ship on the Western Cyclades, having instead decided to operate the SUPER JET on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line. They had also bought a second ship during the previous year, namely the SEA JET 2, which was sold by Blue Star Ferries and was employed on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros line, where she remained until 2012.

After being satisfied with the performances of its two ships in 2007, Aegean Speed Lines continued to make plans for further expansion in the Greek coastal service. While they looked for new ships, they eventually decided to sell the SPEEDRUNNER I just before the start of the 2008 season. The ship was bought by the Greek company Panagiotopoulos Shipping (which became known as Idomeneas Lines in 2015) and entered service for them on the Heraklion-Santorini-Mykonos line as the SEA RUNNER. As a result, only the SPEEDRUNNER II operated on the Cyclades for the company during the summer of 2008. In that same year, Sea Jets bought its first high speed ferry, the MEGA JET (built in the same shipyard as the ex-SPEEDRUNNER I), which was deployed on the Piraeus-Ios-Santorini-Heraklion line, before moving to the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line the following year. While many thought that Aegean Speed Lines was taking a major step backwards when selling the SPEEDRUNNER I, this proved to be false, as the company eventually purchased two more high speed ferries in 2008. These were the sister ships SUPERSEACAT THREE and SUPERSEACAT FOUR of SuperSeaCat, which also happened to have been built in the same shipyard as the SPEEDRUNNER II. Indeed, both ships are part of the MDV 1200-class, and have several common technical characteristics as the SPEEDRUNNER II, although they are not sister ships since they are slightly larger and have more powerful engines. Both ships were built in 1999 and had been operating on the Tallinn-Helsinki line before SuperSeaCat ceased operations in late 2008. They arrived in Greece the following year, after having been converted in Poland, and they were renamed SPEEDRUNNER III and SPEEDRUNNER IV, respectively. Their introduction to service further cemented the presence of Aegean Speed Lines on the Cyclades, as they now had three modern high speed ferries that could compete against those of Hellenic Seaways, NEL Lines and Sea Jets. The SPEEDRUNNER III was introduced on a new service by the company, most specifically on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line, while the SPEEDRUNNER II was deployed on the Piraeus-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line. The SPEEDRUNNER IV, which became the flagship of the company, was inserted on its core Western Cyclades service, on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros line. All three ships had an extremely successful service, and the company was chosen as the winner of the 'Passenger Line of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards for 2009. With this distinction, the company was poised to become one of the leading operators on the Aegean Sea and rival operators such as Blue Star Ferries, Hellenic Seaways, ANEK Lines and NEL Lines. Nevertheless, the company did face strong competition on the Western Cyclades during that year. Indeed, besides the AGIOS GEORGIOS of Ventouris Sea Lines and the HIGHSPEED 3 of Hellenic Seaways, the 2009 season saw the introduction of the impressive conventional ferry ADAMANTIOS KORAIS of Zante Ferries on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, as well as the return of Sea Jets, which deployed the SUPER JET on the Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line. As such, the upcoming seasons would turn out to be a major challenge for Aegean Speed Lines, as their high speed ferries had to maintain strong performances against various companies on the Western Cyclades.

For the 2010 season, Aegean Speed Lines remained present on the Cyclades with its three ships. The services were similar to those of the 2009 season, with the exception of the SPEEDRUNNER III which saw her itinerary being extended, as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line. Sea Jets once again deployed the SUPER JET on the Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line, while the AGIOS GEORGIOS and the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS continued to serve the Western Cyclades lifeline. Hellenic Seaways replaced the HIGHSPEED 3 (which was sold to the Moroccan company Comarit along with the HIGHSPEED 2) with the newly-acquired HIGHSPEED 6 (previously the MILENIUM of the Spanish company Trasmediterránea, then known as Acciona Trasmediterránea), which spent her first season in Greece on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Kimolos-Milos-Ios-Santorini line. Aegean Speed had a good season overall, but the Greek financial crisis began to impact the ferry industry, and many companies began to experience economic troubles. Many of them had to limit their services and sell some of their ships, while others went on to cease operations during the early 2010s. Despite these setbacks, the company kept its three ships during the 2011 season, with the SPEEDRUNNER III and the SPEEDRUNNER IV remaining in their respective services, while the SPEEDRUNNER II was deployed on the Heraklion-Santorini line, hence marking the company's first season on a service linking Crete with the Cyclades. There, the ship notably competed against the MEGA JET of Sea Jets, and also against her former fleetmate, the ex-SPEEDRUNNER I, which was taken over by Sea Jets and began service on the Chania-Heraklion-Rethymnon-Agios Nikolaos-Santorini line as the COSMOS JET. Both former fleetmates had a difficult season, and the COSMOS JET notably suffered a major engine failure and was withdrawn from service shortly before the 2011 season ended. She was laid-up in Keratsini for more than a year, before moving for further lay-up in Chalkida in 2013, where she has since been remaining. Other than being renamed HIGH SPEED JET in late 2014 and having her engines used as spares for her sister ships that went on to be acquired by Sea Jets during the 2010s, the ship has never been repaired and will most likely never return to service again. Additionally, the SPEEDRUNNER III also had a major engine failure in late August, which ultimately ended her services prematurely. Only the SPEEDRUNNER IV performed well enough on the Western Cyclades, as did the ships of Ventouris Sea Lines, Zante Ferries and Sea Jets.

The 2012 season ultimately proved to be an even more difficult one for the company. Due to the continuing effects of the Greek financial crisis, Aegean Speed Lines could not longer guarantee profitable services, and therefore decided to focus only on the Western Cyclades. The SPEEDRUNNER IV saw her services being restricted to the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line, while the SPEEDRUNNER II and the SPEEDRUNNER III were laid-up for the entire year in the Elefsina Bay. The following year, the SPEEDRUNNER III was reactivated and was deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line, hence replacing the SPEEDRUNNER IV which joined the SPEEDRUNNER II for lay-up in the Elefsina Bay. Many thought that company would not survive a third consecutive season with just one ship, but, ultimately, things improved in 2014. Indeed, the SPEEDRUNNER III was coming off a very good 2013 season, and the company started to experience profitable services once again. The SPEEDRUNNER IV was also reactivated, as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line during the summer of 2014. She would go on to serve the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line once again during the 2015 season, while it was rumoured that the SPEEDRUNNER III would be introduced on a new service between Rafina and the Cyclades during that same year.

While Aegean Speed Lines had a difficult start to the 2010s decade, Sea Jets began its impressive growth, which still lasts to date and one wonders whether and when it will stop. Indeed, during the 2012 season, they replaced the COSMOS JET with one of her sister ships, namely the MASTER JET (previously the HOVERSPEED FRANCE of Hoverspeed, later known as the SNAEFFEL of the Isle of Mann Steam Packet Company), which operated on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini line along with the MEGA JET for two years. In 2013, the company brought the SEA JET 2 on the Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line, while the SUPER JET was introduced on a successful new service on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line. In 2014, the company further expanded its fleet by deploying the large high speed ferry TERA JET on the Heraklion-Santorini line, where she made an immediate impact and established Sea Jets as one of the leading companies on the Cyclades. The MASTER JET (which is known as the CALDERA VISTA since 2018) was introduced on the Piraeus-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, while the other three ships remained on their usual services. Following a very successful 2014 season, the company went on to further increase its fleet, acquiring the ÉMERAUDE FRANCE (a sister ship and another former fleetmate of the ex-SPEEDRUNNER I) which became the SEA SPEED JET (she however entered service for the company, as she has remained under lay-up in Chalkida alongside the COSMOT JET/HIGH SPEED JET ever since) in 2014; the sister ships CONDOR VITESSE and CONDOR EXPRESS of the French company Condor Ferries, which became the CHAMPION JET 1 and the CHAMPION JET 2, respectively; and the high speed ferry CORSICA EXPRESS SECONDA of the French-Italian company Corsica Ferries-Sardinia Ferries, which was renamed PAROS JET. Excluding the HIGH SPEED JET and the SEA SPEED JET, the company therefore had eight high speed craft due to enter service during the 2015 season. Two of them were deployed on the Western Cyclades: the SEA JET 2 served the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, while the CHAMPION JET 1 was introduced on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line. Her service there was deemed disappointing, as she was plagued by technical issues. She was replaced in August 2015 by the MASTER JET, when the latter left her service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line, which was taken over by the PAROS JET once her conversion was finished. The SPEEDRUNNER IV had another good season as she continued to be supported by the local residents of the Western Cyclades. Ultimately, the company once again only had one ship operating, as the SPEEDRUNNER III was never deployed in Rafina, being instead chartered to the Moroccan company Navline, for whom she spent the summer of 2015 on the Algeciras-Tangier Med line on the Gibraltar Strait. In addition, they sold the SPEEDRUNNER II, which had been inactive since the 2011 season, to the Venezuelan company Naviera Paraguaná, for whom she has since been operating as the PARAGUANÁ I. Furthermore, the 2015 season notably saw the departure of Ventouris Sea Lines from the Western Cyclades, as they tried to deploy the AGIOS GEORGIOS on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line as the PANAGIA TINOU, but they ultimately ceased operations due to severe financial problems, and the ships remained laid-up in Piraeus until being sold for scrap in 2017. To compensate the loss of a conventional ferry, Zante Ferries went on to deploy a second ship on the Western Cyclades, namely the ANDREAS KALVOS, which started serving the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos line.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV seen leaving the island of Milos in order to start her return leg to Piraeus, during the summer of 2015. This had been her second consecutive summer on the Western Cyclades, and her sixth overall since arriving in Greece in 2009. She was the flagship of Aegean Speed Lines, and she only missed the 2013 season due to her company's financial issues at the time.

A view of the SEA JET 2 as she is seen leaving Santorini in order to head to Amorgos during the 2015 season. This was her third consecutive season on the Piraeus-Cyclades service, which she had taken over from her fleetmate and sister ship, the SUPER JET, which moved to Rafina in 2013. She went on to be a notable competitor of Aegean Speed Lines for the remainder of the 2010s decade.

The CHAMPION JET 1 seen in Piraeus in 2015, during her debut season in Greece and under Sea Jets. That year, she notably operated on the Western Cyclades, on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line. She encountered several technical issues and she therefore was unable to keep her service according to schedule. I notably performed my first trip onboard a high speed ferry and through the Western Cyclades when I sailed onboard her from Santorini to Piraeus on 12 July 2015.

With the Greek coastal service having recovered from the Greek financial crisis and with passenger numbers on the rise on all the Cyclades, Aegean Speed Lines and Sea Jets continued to compete effectively against each other during the 2016 season. The SPEEDRUNNER IV saw her services being extended beyond Milos for the first time since 2011, as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos line. The SPEEDRUNNER III was once again out of the company's plans, and she was instead chartered to the Greek company Levante Ferries, for whom she began service on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line on the Ionian Sea. Sea Jets removed the CHAMPION JET 1 from the Western Cyclades and deployed her on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line. They instead decided to operate their two passenger-only catamarans, the SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET, in the area. The former operated on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Mykonos line, while the latter was introduced on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line. Both ships had a very good service, and the company had a satisfying season overall. Aegean Speed Lines also performed very well, but they ultimately ended the year by selling yet another ship and therefore further diminishing their fleet. Indeed, the company sold its flagship, the SPEEDRUNNER IV, to the Greek company Golden Star Ferries. The latter had started operations on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line in 2011, after having bought the legendary ferry SUPERFERRY II (now the SUPERSTAR of Sea Jets) from Blue Star Ferries. As that company grew over the seasons that followed, and due to strong competition from Sea Jets in Rafina, they proceeded to buy their first high speed craft. The SPEEDRUNNER IV therefore left Aegean Speed Lines and the Western Cyclades, and began service for her new owners as the SUPERRUNNER on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line during the 2017 season. To replace her, Aegean Speed Lines brought back the SPEEDRUNNER III and deployed her back on the Western Cyclades for the first time since 2014. She therefore spent the 2017 season on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos line.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV seen departing the port of Piraeus during the 2016 season, which ultimately proved to be her final one under Aegean Speed Lines. Indeed, she was subsequently sold to Golden Star Ferries, for whom she began service in 2017 as the SUPERRUNNER. Her departure left her former company with only one ship, namely her sister ship, the SPEEDRUNNER III.

A view of the SUPER JET while she sails on the Cyclades during the 2017 season. She had left Piraeus and she was now heading towards Serifos. This was her second consecutive season on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini line, during which she would leave Piraeus during the afternoon. Her service there proved to be very successful, and she was a notable threat to the services of Aegean Speed Lines.

The SPEEDRUNNER III seen maneuvering in the port of Sifnos during the summer of 2017. This was her first season on the Western Cyclades since 2014, as well as her first year operating for Aegean Speed Lines after having spent the previous two seasons under charter to Navline and Levante Ferries. Her return to the Western Cyclades proved to be very successful, and she was praised for her effective services and for the professionalism of her crew.

The 2017 season was seen as very satisfying by Aegean Speed Lines. They nevertheless continued to maintain a single-ship service and did not seek to add more ships to their fleet. Sea Jets also performed very well on the Western Cyclades with the SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET, as did Zante Ferries, which replaced the ANDREAS KALVOS with the recently-converted DIONISIOS SOLOMOS on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios line. For the 2018 season, all companies maintained the same services as they did in 2017, with the sole exception being the SPEEDRUNNER III ceasing service in Folegandros and Sikinos in order to have a stronger presence in Serifos, Sifnos and Milos. She did continue to operate in Kimolos that year, however in 2019 she was back at operating solely on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line. Zante Ferries continued to operate its two conventional ferries very effectively, while Sea Jets further strengthened its presence on the Western Cyclades in 2019 by having three ships operating there. The SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET operated a successful tandem service on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line (where one ship would make the first leg towards the islands one day, while the other one would perform the return leg back to Piraeus, and vice-versa), while the previous service of the SUPER JET was taken over by a new acquisition of the company, namely the high speed catamaran SIFNOS JET, which spent her debut season on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Thirassia-Santorini-Ios line. During the second half of the 2010s, Sea Jets had become an established company across the Cyclades, having purchased seven ships between 2016 and 2019, two of which were conventional ferries. Some successful new introductions included the NAXOS JET (previously the CYCLADES EXPRESS of NEL Lines, and another sister ship and former fleetmate of the ex-SPEEDRUNNER I) which was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line in 2018, and, most notably the high speed ferry WORLDCHAMPION JET, which began service on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line and became the fastest passenger ship of the Greek coastal service. The company also continued to experience much success of the demanding Rafina-Cyclades service, where it operated two high speed ferries each season between 2017 and 2019, which competed very effectively against companies like Golden Star Ferries and Fast Ferries. While this area did not concern Aegean Speed Lines, Sea Jets nevertheless continued to pose a major threat to the company on the Western Cyclades at the start of the 2020s.

The SPEEDRUNNER III seen leaving the port of Piraeus in order to head to the Western Cyclades during the 2019 season. Having stopped services in Kimolos, Folegandros and Sikinos, she was spending her first summer serving only the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line since 2014.

A picture of the SIFNOS JET during her debut season in 2019. She was bought by Sea Jets in 2016, and she finally entered service for them three years later by being deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Thirassia-Santorini-Ios line, where she replaced the SUPER JET. She therefore became the third ship of Sea Jets to be deployed on the Cyclades.

Following a very successful 2019 season, the Greek coastal service looked forward to 2020, until the effects of the pandemic adversely affected tourism in Greece. Despite these setbacks, the Western Cyclades remained an important destination during the summer. To that end, Aegean Speed Lines was able to maintain the SPEEDRUNNER III on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line. Sea Jets managed to further assert itself in the area by maintaining a three-ship service. Benefitting from the departure of the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS which moved to the Alexandroupolis-Samothraki-Limnos line (hence leaving the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS as the only conventional ferry on the Western Cyclades, as she continued to serve the demanding Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Santorini lifeline), Sea Jets introduced a high speed ferry on the Western Cyclades for the first time since 2015. Indeed, they deployed the CHAMPION JET 2 on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line, whereupon she would have afternoon departures from Piraeus. The SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET continued their tandem service on the Western Cyclades, whereas the SIFNOS JET headed to the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Naxos line. The introduction of the CHAMPION JET 2 proved to be very successful, and she was widely praised by passengers. Her deployment added significant pressure to the SPEEDRUNNER III, which nevertheless continued to be supported by several locals. But Sea Jets could not be stopped on the Western Cyclades, where they had now cemented themselves as the leading operator against Aegean Speed Lines and Zante Ferries. During the 2021 season, they once again operated the three ships that they had used during the previous summer, but they decided to have the CHAMPION JET 2 depart from Piraeus in the morning, hence competing directly against the services of the SPEEDRUNNER III. Both ships operated well, but it was clear that Sea Jets now had the upper hand, despite Aegean Speed Lines having strong local support and matchings its itineraries with those of the ships of Minoan Lines, which began to make summer calls to Milos beginning in 2018. Additionally, there were several rumours about Sea Jets planning to deploy a conventional ferry on the Western Cyclades, with that being the SUPERSTAR (the ex-SUPERFERRY II) that they acquired from Golden Star Ferries in late 2021.

The CHAMPION JET 2 seen docked in Piraeus during the 2020 season. This was her first summer on the Western Cyclades, as she was deployed on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line. Before that, she had spent three seasons on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, while she saw her first two summers under Sea Jets on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line. Her introduction on the Western Cyclades proved to be a major success, and her two seasons there were a major reason why Aegean Speed Lines went on a decline.

After two very challenging summers, Aegean Speed Lines found itself lagging behind Sea Jets. The latter continued to have an ambitious agenda for the Western Cyclades ahead of the 2022 season. Indeed, they announced their intention to deploy the TERA JET on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line, whereupon she would leave Piraeus during the morning. The deployment of a larger and faster high speed ferry, and most specifically the company's flagship, meant that Sea Jets genuinely sought to dominate on the Western Cyclades. They also planned to operate the CHAMPION JET 2 in the afternoon service of the Western Cyclades, while the SEA JET 2 and the SUPER JET are set to operate together on an inter-Cyclades service on the Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos. Despite criticism from the residents of Folegandros over the lack of a direct connection with Piraeus with a high speed craft, Sea Jets had more promising timetables that would benefit Serifos, Sifnos and Milos. Aegean Speed Lines began to operate the SPEEDRUNNER III on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line last month, but concerns over the company's profitability due to the competitive summer environment brought about by Sea Jets and the high fuel prices resulting from the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, led the company in ceding its final ship to its main competitor. Indeed, on 29 April 2022, the company made the following announcement on its website:

'From 2005 and following a continuous 17-year-long presence in the Greek coastal service, the pandemic and the rising fuel costs prompted the management of Aegean Speed Lines to cease its operations of high speed craft in Greece, and most specifically on the Western Cyclades. A major factor behind this decision was the allocation of the company's services during the 2021 season, as well as the numerous planned services for this current period, which exceed the real demand figures in that specific area. Aegean Speed Lines would like to thanks everyone who supported it during its long-lasting growth, from friends to passengers, and most importantly its crew members who gave their hearts and souls in order to bring positive results to our common efforts. The Evgenidis Group intends to remain present in the Greek coastal service, always remaining alert to demand trends and carefully monitoring the market conditions that will be seen in the Greek ferry industry.

The Management Team''

Just six days after this announcement, the SPEEDRUNNER III performed her final sailing under Aegean Speed Lines. Her final arrivals and departures from Serifos, Sifnos and Milos were met with much emotion, as several locals came to say one last goodbye to the ship and to her crew, as the insignia of Aegean Speed Lines are disappearing for good. The ship will most likely be renamed SPEEDRUNNER JET, and rumours suggest that she will either be deployed on the Western Cyclades instead of the CHAMPION JET 2 (which will apparently start a new service for the company on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line) or on the Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes line on the Dodecanese, which was served by the PAROS JET last year. With the acquisition of the SPEEDRUNNER III, Sea Jets now has a fleet of 24 vessels (of which 18 are active), and it therefore continues to extend its record as the company with the largest current fleet in the Greek coastal service (excluding local tour companies such as the Santorini Boatmen Union). The SPEEDRUNNER III will notably be reunited with her sister ship and former fleetmate, namely the ex-SPEEDRUNNER IV, which joined Sea Jets in 2021 as the SUPERRUNNER JET, after spending five years with Golden Star Ferries. She also reunites with many high speed craft that used to operate for Sea Containers, such as the NAXOS JET and the CALDERA VISTA. Moreover, she becomes the third ship previously owned by Aegean Speed Lines that joins Sea Jets, as the latter also has the ex-SPEEDRUNNER I (currently the HIGH SPEED JET), although she has been laid-up for 11 years and will most likely never sail again. Therefore, it is interesting to see that three out of the four ships that Aegean Speed Lines had in its history have since been acquired by Sea Jets, with the sole exception being the ex-SPEEDRUNNER II which has been in Venezuela since 2016.

My last-ever picture featuring the SPEEDRUNNER III under the livery of Aegean Speed Lines, as she is seen sailing from Piraeus during the afternoon. This picture was taken in September 2021, and it coincidentally shows SPEEDRUNNER III with one of her sister ships. Indeed, she is seen passing by the HELLENIC HIGHSPEED, which is owned by Hellenic Seaways. The latter had completed her summer service on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Ikaria-Fournoi-Patmos-Leros-Kalymnos-Kos-Symi-Rhodes line. Built in 1997 (two years before the SPEEDRUNNER III), she also arrived in Greece for the first time in 2009 (just like her two sister ships when they joined Aegean Speed Lines), but she first operated there during the 2016 season, as Hellenic Seaways would send her under charter to Atlântico Line for service on the Azores Archipelago. Another interesting fact is that the fourth ship of the MDV 1200-class, the ALMUDAINA DOS of the Spanish company Trasmediterránea, is also set to arrive in Greece, as she was acquired by the newly-established company Panellenic Lines, for whom she is set to operate as the SANTA IRINI on the Heraklion-Santorini line. This therefore means that all four sister ships will be reunited in Greece, after having all started their careers on the Channel under SuperSeaCat.

This therefore marks the end of Aegean Speed Lines, a once ambitious company that spent 17 years on the Western Cyclades, while occasionally attempting to further expand their services on other islands of the Cyclades, as well as Crete during the 2011 season. They operated four different high speed ferries, while they had a three-ship service for three years between 2009 and 2011. For some, the company peaked at a very early stage, and it never recovered from the impact of the Greek financial crisis, instead preferring to remain 'safe' on its core area, the Western Cyclades, as they had a strong local support there. Even though the SPEEDRUNNER IV and later the SPEEDRUNNER III ensured that the company remained a strong presence there during the 2010s, the rapid rise of Sea Jets made them more vulnerable and their long-term plans were directly hit. For others, the eventual acquisition of the SPEEDRUNNER III by Sea Jets was long overdue, as Aegean Speed Lines seemed to find a way to leave the Greek ferry market scene following the strong pressure from its rival. The latter now has a full control of the high speed services on the Western Cyclades, and only Zante Ferries and the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS (which are also rumoured to experience financial constraints) are the remaining challengers there. Seeing how Sea Jets managed to acquire four ships from one its major rivals, Golden Star Ferries, last year, and how they easily bought the last remaining ship of Aegean Speed Lines, one may wonder whether they will eventually become a monopoly on the Cyclades. Based on their latest transactions, they are performing similar tactics as those of Minoan Flying Dolphins between 1998 and 1999, back when they were gradually buying each ship owned by traditional ferry operators of the Cyclades until they controlled a fleet of 77 ships in 2000. Who knows whether they will surpass that record as well. One things that will be very interesting is where the SPEEDRUNNER III will be used during the 2022 season, and whether she could complement the SUPERRUNNER on a service on the Cyclades. Regarding their former owner, the announcement does suggest that Leonidas Dimitriadis-Evgenidis has not entirely given up on the Greek coastal service, instead opting to discontinue operations of high speed craft. To that end, he might consider buying a conventional ferry in the future, something which had always been a topic of discussion while Aegean Speed Lines was still active. Considering the strong support that he has from the Western Cyclades locals, and the lack of a second conventional ferry in the area, could he make a strong comeback against Sea Jets by deploying a new ferry? What the sale of the SPEEDRUNNER III a necessary sacrifice so that the Evgenidis Group could raise more funds in order to start a new (and more ambitious project) on the Western Cyclades? Could they prevent Sea Jets from becoming a monopoly on the Cyclades? The future will determine this, and hopefully very soon.

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