The Appia of 1961 was the first car ferry of the Italian state-controlled operator Adriatica. She joined the equally new Greek (Hellenic Mediterranean Lines)-owned Egnatia on a ground-breaking joint service from Brindisi to Corfu, Igoumenitsa and Patras, the Adriatic’s first proper car ferry operation. The ships, which proved a great success, took their names from the two Roman roads which, on their respective sides of the sea, connected Rome with Constantinople (Istanbul). We will return to the Egnatia and HML at a later date – unlike their Greek counterparts, Adriatica still exists, in a much denuded form, as a small and seemingly unwanted division of Tirrenia. The failure of either operator to properly build on the early success of the Egnatia and Appia has to be viewed as something of a tragedy given the possibilities that existed in the Adriatic market, as exemplified today by the modern and heretofore broadly profitable services of relative newcomers like Minoan Lines, ANEK and Superfast.
The Appia was as far removed as can be imagined from the current speedy leviathans yet, at her introduction, she was fairly revolutionary – Italy’s first drive-on international car ferry. Her inaugural brochure proclaims “a new, comfortable and fast means of conveyance; she is the answer to the requirements of modern tourism, of which motoring is so great a part. The crossing between Brindisi and the west coast of Greece takes approximately eight hours and can be made in comfort at remarkably little expense.
“If desired the crossing can be extended to take in the sea trip between Igoumenitsa and Patras – this trip, always made in daylight hours, is of the greatest interest, the island scenery being unfailingly beautiful”.
The ship in size and speed seems quite puny now – her two Fiat diesel engines providing a 17 knot service speed which powered her 706 overnight passengers on the 19 and a half hour (with a following wind) through crossing to Patras.
Later Adriatica brochures would detail her onboard delights: “a one class ship with dayroom, bar, restaurant, swimming pool, lido, snack bar, promenades and sun decks. There is also an information service on board, a shop, automatic dispensers of hot and cold drinks and – an entirely new idea – telecinema equipment which transmits to various parts of the ship normal television programmes, films and live entertainments and reportage. No effort has been spared to make the passenger comfortable, the decor especially demonstrates the designers’ desire to capture the holiday mood, without sacrificing any elegance or convenience.”
That decor was very slightly more staid than might have been expected had the Appia been built slightly further into the ’60s but it was not unattractive and the traditional Italian pegboard ceilings and polished linoleum floors could be found throughout. The ship’s nicely-detailed circular swimming pool featured an eminently photographable water slide which slotted in between a gap in the mainmast. Cabin space was for just 200, the balance of her passenger load being accommodated on deck or in the various reclining seat lounges, the largest being located just beneath the bridge. The relatively small vehicle deck (for up to 100 cars) had cabins running alongside at the upper level leaving a small centreline area astern for up to six coaches to be carried in an area aft of a very wide centre casing.
The Appia gave Adriatica loyal service for over 30 years, finally being sold to Indian interests in 1992 who briefly operated her as the Fibi before she headed to Alang for scrapping in 1995.
Her famous operators still had a few good years left, but their final conventional purpose-builds for the international services, the incredible trio of flops the Palladio, Sansovino and Laurana, were a dangerous warning sign that all was not well. Ships and time-honoured routes were quickly shed as the operation lost its independence and fell under a seemingly disinterested Tirrenia management in Naples. In 2010, the year in which perhaps Adriatica’s most famous ship, the ex-Ausonia, finally headed for scrap, there are further serious doubts about the future of the sole remaining service, from Bari to Durres in Albania, of what is now simply Tirrenia’s Divisione Adriatica.