Posts tagged: brindisi

Remembering the Egnatia III

Hellenic Mediterranean Lines were probably the most famous Greek ferry company, well-known initially for fairly exotic liner service and latterly for decades of transporting backpackers on Inter-rail tickets from Italy to Greece. By the early 1990s, HML was operating a grand fleet of veteran car ferries, but their early entries into this market were more impressive, taking delivery of the brand-new Egnatia in 1960, the Adriatic’s first purpose-built overnight car ferry. Then, in the 1970s, they ordered two exceptional new ships, the car ferry Castalia and the pure cruise ship Aquarius. The future seemed secure but this was to be high water mark for the company and, although the fleet expanded through the 1980s, the market changed and they failed to follow it.

HML's 2003 brochure.

HML's 2003 brochure.

By 2003, the company was reduced to just two ferries – the Egnatia III and the veteran Poseidonia. The latter, once the Belfast Steamship Company’s (later P&O Ferries’) Ulster Queen was by then far too small, chronically outdated and much too slow. The Egnatia III, although built only six years later, in 1973, was another matter entirely. Originally the Stena Scandinavica she was one of Stena’s famous four from Yugoslavia, where Sten Olsson, by repute looking to build a pair of vessels, found he could get them built for half the price of a North European yard. So he ordered four instead – two for the Gothenburg-Frederikshavn route (ships which later became the Bluenose and the Versailles/Seafrance Monet) and two for Gothenburg-Kiel (later the Scotia Prince and Irish Continental Lines’ Saint Killian II). It was the Saint Killian II, lengthened by 30m in 1981, which finally found its way to HML, her Irish career drawing to a close after her owners rejuvenated their French operations with the acquisition of the Normandy in 1998. The ship spent almost five years laid up in a deteriorating state before HML revived her and introduced her on the classic backpacker route from Brindisi to Patras via Igoumenitsa, and, on some crossings, Corfu, Kefalonia, Paxos and Zakynthos.

Stena's 1970s Yugoslavian quartet.

Stena's 1970s Yugoslavian quartet.

The ICL years

The early ICL days

A view of the ship after her lengthening in 1981.

A view of the ship after her lengthening in 1981.

HML’s new, and final, flagship operated for the company for just one season, the summer of 2003, and I joined her for a sailing in July of that year which left Brindisi at 8pm and, after calls at Igoumenitsa and Kefalonia made it to Patras at 1.30pm the following day. We arrived in Brindisi on the high speed train from Ortona and, having wandered down the Corso Roma to the harbour, were faced across the harbour with the magnificent sight of the Derin Deniz, once B&I’s Innisfallen, which was in her final role sailing to Turkey.

The Derin Deniz.

The Derin Deniz.

The Derin Deniz was not alone in port: whilst in the summer of 2013, only a couple of operators could be found running from Brindisi, on the day of our sailing aboard the Egnatia III twelve ferries were scattered around the port – ten of which were in service, each representing a different ferry line. Only one of those ten operators exists any more, and even they, Agoudimos Lines, are nearing the end. All but one of the twelve ships has been scrapped, the sole exception being the fast passenger ferry Santa Eleonora, today the Ponza Jet. Just as depressing as that ferry roll of doom is the decline of the port of Brindisi – once one of the key hubs of the Adriatic ferry market it is today a peripheral, half-forgotten player.

The Santa Eleonora arriving from Greece.

The Santa Eleonora arriving from Greece.

HML finally succumbed just a year later – the superficial promise of the 2003 season was followed by a quite disastrous 2004. The Egnatia III was chartered out to Algeria Ferries but core operations back at home, which were to have been left in the hands of the Poseidonia, never properly materialised. The little ship stayed alongside in Keratsini through the summer, with a last-minute charter of the old Japanese ferry Arielle being organised instead, giving that vessel the somewhat unlikely honour of operating HML’s last sailings. The Poseidonia, sold to Saudi Arabian interests, soon found herself sunk near Sharm el-Sheikh. The Egnatia III lay at anchor in Elefsis bay for a couple of years but was finally scrapped in India in 2007, bringing to an ignominious close the story of Greece’s most famous coastal shipping operator. The company’s old website persisted for many years and a version still does, now appropriated by a ferry booking engine but still with images of the Egnatia III. So well known was the HML name that the company’s Italian agent later licensed its use on brochures of operators such as GA Ferries and Endeavor Lines. To this day, a giant builder’s model of the original Egnatia can be found in the window of their offices on the Corso Roma.

A decade after our sailing, I found myself flicking through the many pictures taken on that trip and share them below. They aren’t quite of the standard I’d expect to take today, but they capture the final, optimistic but ultimately damned flourish of the great Hellenic Mediterranean Lines and are witness to the closing days an entirely lost era of ferry travel.

HML ticket.

HML ticket.

Walking over to our ship at Brindisi's Costa Morena port, we passed by Fragline's Ouranos (ex-Tor Hollandia of 1967). She was finally scrapped in 2010.

Walking over to our ship at Brindisi's Costa Morena port, we passed by Fragline's Ouranos (ex-Tor Hollandia of 1967). She was finally scrapped in 2010.

Employed by Access Ferries in sailings to Turkey was the Hermes V. Originally TT Lines' second Nils Holgersson of 1967, she was sold for scrap just one month after this picture was taken.

Employed by Access Ferries in sailings to Turkey was the Hermes V. Originally TT Lines' second Nils Holgersson of 1967, she was sold for scrap just one month after this picture was taken.

The Egnatia II at Brindisi later on in July 2003 with the little Poseidonia beyond.

The Egnatia II at Brindisi later on in July 2003 with the little Poseidonia beyond.

Boarding the Egnatia III.

Boarding the Egnatia III.

Egnatia III deckplan

Egnatia III deckplan

The main lobby on Deck 5, the primary cabin deck. This outstanding space retained its original marble-fronted reception desk and ornate staircase balustrades.

The main lobby on Deck 5, the primary cabin deck. This outstanding space retained its original marble-fronted reception desk and ornate staircase balustrades.

Another view, from the starboard side, showing more of the main staircase.

Another view, from the starboard side, showing more of the main staircase.

The doors to the telephone booths in the lobby retained their embossed Stena 'S's.

The doors to the telephone booths in the lobby retained their embossed Stena 'S's.

Moving up to Deck 6, right aft we find a forgettable reclining seat lounge. This was originally an area of cabins.

Moving up to Deck 6, right aft we find a forgettable reclining seat lounge. This was originally an area of cabins.

Moving forward, this is the self-service restaurant, structurally little changed from its original incarnation.

Moving forward, this is the self-service restaurant, structurally little changed from its original incarnation.

Cafeteria servery.

Cafeteria servery.

Moving forward, seen here is the long port-side arcade which passed by the shop and the main restaurant areas.

Here is the long port-side arcade which passed by the shop and the main restaurant areas.

Shared entrance to the Aquarius Restaurant and The Ships Buffet - more theoretically than actually separate, these were installed in the area of the 1981 stretch.

The shared entrance to the Aquarius Restaurant and The Ships Buffet - more theoretically than actually separate, these were installed in the area of the 1981 stretch.

The Aquarius Restaurant was named in honour of the company's 1970s cruise ship and was complete with this magnificent builder's model of that vessel.

The Aquarius Restaurant was named in honour of the company's 1970s cruise ship and was complete with this magnificent builder's model of that vessel.

Overall view of The Ships Buffet.

Overall view of The Ships Buffet.

Casino area, just forward of the restaurants on the starboard side.

Casino area, just forward of the restaurants on the starboard side. This was nominally called 'The Lydia Casino' after the ex-Koningin Fabiola which operated for HML for a decade from 1985.

Moving forward again, inboard of the port arcade could be found the Corinthia Lounge. Before the ship was stretched, this area was the main restaurant but in its final guise it was named for the former Sealink Duke of Argyll which sailed as the Corinthia for HML in the 1980s and 1990s. The naming of this bar gave the company scope to re-use the bespoke bar menu covers bearing the Corinthia name which had presumably been in storage since her sale in 1994.

Moving forward again, inboard of the port arcade could be found the Corinthia Lounge. Before the ship was stretched, this area was the main restaurant but in its final guise it was named for the former Sealink Duke of Argyll which sailed as the Corinthia for HML in the 1980s and 1990s. The naming of this area gave the company scope to re-use the bespoke bar menu covers bearing the Corinthia name which had presumably been in storage since her sale in 1994.

Another view of the Corinthia Lounge.

Another view of the Corinthia Lounge.

Right forward was this rather gloomy cinema - the front windows still have their rough-weather plates in place to ensure complete darkness.

Right forward was this rather gloomy cinema - the front windows still have their metal rough-weather covers in place to ensure complete darkness.

The final main passenger saloon was up on Deck 7 - the main bar, the Ionia Bar, named in honour of the little liner which was owned by the company from 1946 to 1964.

The final main passenger saloon was up on Deck 7 - the main bar, the Ionia Bar, named in honour of the little Hartlepool-built liner which was owned by HML from 1946 to 1964.

Open until the last passenger leaves.

Open until the last passenger leaves.

The Ionia Bar had been converted, predictably, into an Irish Pub during the ship's ICL days.

The Ionia Bar had been converted, predictably, into an Irish Pub during the ship's ICL days.

The Ionia Bar, looking forward.

The Ionia Bar, looking forward.

The Ionia Bar.

The Ionia Bar.

The Ionia Bar.

The Ionia Bar.

Heading aft into the new Deck 7 cabins added during the lengthening, this is the top of the staircase leading from the main lobby two decks below.

Heading aft into the new Deck 7 cabins added during the lengthening, this is the top of the staircase leading from the main lobby two decks below.

The thirteen suites added by ICL on Deck 9 still bore the names of, occasionally obscure, figures in Irish history. Thomas Charles Wright was an Irish soldier who fought in Latin America with Simon Bolívar and, by repute, founded the Ecuadorian Navy.

The thirteen suites added by ICL on Deck 9 still bore the names of, occasionally obscure, figures in Irish history. Thomas Charles Wright was an Irish soldier who fought in Latin America with Simon Bolívar and, by repute, founded the Ecuadorian Navy.

View inside one of the suites.

View inside one of the suites.

Betraying her '70s roots, most of the other cabins retained their original doors complete with melamine panels featuring flower prints.

Betraying her '70s roots, most of the Egnatia III's other cabins retained their original doors complete with melamine panels featuring flower prints.

Heading out on deck, and this is the long, teak-planked promenade deck on the starboard side.

Heading out on deck, and this is the long, teak-planked promenade deck on the starboard side.

The Hermes V, with the Ouranos and Penelope A beyond.

The Hermes V, with the Ouranos and Penelope A beyond.

The Penelope A (ex-European Gateway). This ship was finally scrapped in 2013.

The Penelope A (ex-European Gateway). This ship was finally scrapped in 2013.

Our ship's funnel, still with the shamrock, painted over but clearly visible from her ICL days.

Our ship's funnel, still with the shamrock, painted over but clearly visible from her ICL days.

Arriving on her afternoon sailing from Vlore in Albania is the Gabrielle, originally Sessan Line's Prinsessan Désirée of 1965.

Arriving on her afternoon sailing from Vlore in Albania is the Gabrielle, originally Sessan Line's Prinsessan Désirée of 1965.

Leaving for Patras is Maritime Way's Erotokritos, a Japanese-built Greek veteran which saw many years of service with Minoan Lines. Between her stern and the bow of the Penelope A can be seen the distant shapes of the laid up Jupiter (ex-Surrey) and Tirana (ex-Linda Scarlett).

Leaving for Patras is Maritime Way's Erotokritos, a Japanese-built Greek veteran which saw many years of service with Minoan Lines. Between her stern and the bow of the Penelope A can be seen the distant shapes of the laid up Tirana (ex-Linda Scarlett) and Jupiter (ex-Surrey).

The late arrival of the Europa I (ex-Jens Kofoed), also from Vlore.

The late arrival of the Europa I (ex-Jens Kofoed), also from Vlore.

Exploring the dining options that evening, we paid a visit to the self service, where a bowl of HML spaghetti bolognese was served on a Castalia plate and with a fibreglass Aquarius ashtray sitting on the table.

Exploring the dining options that evening, we paid a visit to the self service, where a bowl of HML spaghetti bolognese was served on a Castalia plate and with a fibreglass Aquarius ashtray sitting on the table. The original Dampa ceiling panels are shown to good effect in this view.

The self-service was officially called the 'Egnatia Easy Food Cafeteria' and featured this prominent image of the original Egnatia of 1960. The second of the three ships to bear the name was the short-lived Egnatia II which served the company between 1998 and 2000 and was the Saint Killian II's former ICL fleetmate, the Saint Patrick II.

The self-service was officially called the 'Egnatia Easy Food Cafeteria' and featured this prominent image of the original Egnatia of 1960. The second of the three ships to bear the name was the short-lived Egnatia II which served the company between 1998 and 2000 and was the Saint Killian II's former ICL fleetmate, the Saint Patrick II.

The Ships Buffet at night. The pictured vessel on the central bulkhead is one of the ex-Swedish Lloyd pair, the Britannia and Suecia of 1929 which served HML as the Cynthia and  Isthmia in the late 1960s on long routes from Marseille to Port Said and Beirut.

The Ships Buffet at night. The pictured vessel on the central bulkhead is one of the ex-Swedish Lloyd pair, the Britannia and Suecia of 1929 which served HML as the Cynthia and Isthmia in the late 1960s on long routes from Marseille to Port Said and Beirut.

The following morning, having already called at Igoumenitsa, found us motoring south towards Kefalonia.

The following morning, having already called at Igoumenitsa, found us motoring south towards Kefalonia.

Arriving in Kefalonia.

Arriving in Kefalonia.

A stern view showing the tiered sun decks.

A stern view showing the tiered sun decks.

A first, distant, view of our final destination, Patras. Seven ships were already in port - unlike Brindisi, only one of these does not survive today.

A first, distant, view of our final destination, Patras. Seven ships were already in port - unlike in Brindisi, only one of these does not survive today.

The Superfast XII.

The Superfast XII.

Superfast XII, Ariadne Palace One (today the Mega Express Three), Erotokritos and Superfast I (today the Skania).

Superfast XII, Ariadne Palace One (today the Mega Express Three), Erotokritos and Superfast I (today the Skania).

Ariadne Palace One.

Ariadne Palace One.

The Erotokritos served out her career with Endeavor Lines, still sailing from Brindisi until being sold for scrap in 2010.

The Erotokritos served out her career with Endeavor Lines, still sailing from Brindisi until being sold for scrap in 2010.

ANEK's El Venizelos in Cosmote advertising livery.

ANEK's El Venizelos in Cosmote advertising livery.

The Superfast I with the Superfast XII in the background. The first and last of Superfast's twelve original ships served together for just fifteen months.

The Superfast I with the Superfast XII in the background. The first and last of Superfast's twelve original ships served together for just fifteen months.

The Ikarus Palace.

The Ikarus Palace.

Following us into port was the Europa Palace, which today operates for Tirrenia as the Amiscora.

Following us into port was the Europa Palace, which today operates for Tirrenia as the Amiscora.

Berthing adjacent to the Ikarus Palace.

Berthing adjacent to the Ikarus Palace.

After disembarkation.

After disembarkation.

A final view.

A final view.

Picture of the week: Ionian Spirit

Ionian Spirit (ex-Viking 3, Wasa Express, Roslagen) arriving at Brindisi.

Ionian Spirit (ex-Viking 3, Wasa Express, Roslagen) arriving at Brindisi.

Previous image

Previous image

Blast from the past: Appia

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.

A pre-construction imagining of the Appia...

A pre-delivery imagining of the Appia...


... and the real thing as delivered.

... and the real thing as delivered.

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 ship's tightly-packed car deck, which would prove restrictive in the ship's later years.

The ship's tightly-packed car deck, which would prove restrictive in the ship's later years.

Astern on the lower of the main passenger decks, Deck C, was the main restaurant, as conceived (above) and completed (below).

Astern on the lower of the main passenger decks, Deck C, was the main restaurant, as conceived (above) and completed (below).

The restaurant was linked to the lobby, amidships, by this starboard-side arcade.

The restaurant was linked to the lobby, amidships, by this starboard-side arcade.

The main C Deck lobby.

The main C Deck lobby.

On the deck above, B Deck, forward was this large observation saloon filled with reclining seats.

On the deck above, B Deck, forward was this large observation saloon filled with reclining seats.

Astern on this deck was the “Sala Soggiorno” or Living Room, seen here as visualised in the inaugural brochure.

Astern on this deck was the “Sala Soggiorno” or Living Room, seen here as visualised in the inaugural brochure.

The same area as completed.

The same area as completed.

Aft on A Deck, the outside decks were served by this lido bar.

Aft on A Deck, the outside decks were served by this lido bar.

A pre-delivery image of the ship's shapely swimming pool and slide, aft on A Deck.

A pre-delivery image of the ship's shapely swimming pool and slide, aft on A Deck.

The pool in use mid-crossing.

The pool in use mid-crossing.

The ship offered seven "Deluxe" two-berth cabins with private facilities including a full bath as well as one suite on C Deck, complete with private sitting area with TV and radio, as seen here.

The ship offered seven 'Deluxe' two-berth cabins with private facilities including a full bath as well as one suite on C Deck, complete with private sitting area with TV and radio, as seen here.

The sleeping area of one of the deluxe cabins.

The sleeping area of one of the deluxe cabins.

The bulk of the ship's cabin accommodation comprised Pullman-style rooms without facilities, which could be converted to night (above) or day (below) use.

The bulk of the ship's cabin accommodation comprised Pullman-style rooms without facilities, which could be converted to night (above) or day (below) use.

Unloading in Brindisi.

Unloading in Brindisi.

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.

Farewell Doric Ferry, Kapetan Alexandros

At Vlore, July 2008

At Vlore, July 2008


Quietly, the Kapetan Alexandros A ex-Doric Ferry, last of the ships of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, left her lay up in Keratsini under tow of the tug Christos XIV bound for scrapping in Aliaga. In service between Brindisi and Vlore through the past Winter, her lay up after being withdrawn was to be mercifully brief.

A final image of the ship in Greek waters, under tow for Turkey, can be found here.

Kapetan Alexandros A (ex-Doric Ferry) – an update

The Kapetan Alexandros A at Brindisi in 2007. Click for larger image.

The Kapetan Alexandros A at Brindisi in 2007. Click for larger image.


Perhaps I spoke too soon with the comment in the previous post that it seemed the Kapetan Alexandros A was coming around to Brindisi for a further Summer!

Agoudimos have now shuffled their fleet and the net result is that the Ionian Spirit (ex-Roslagen/Viking 3) has been rescheduled to operate Brindisi-Vlore this Summer in place of the former Doric Ferry.

The latter, sadly but inevitably, has been rumoured to have been sold for scrapping but is presently lying at Keratsini.

Last of the line: the Kapetan Alexandros A (ex-Doric Ferry)

Kapetan Alexandros A arriving at Brindisi

Kapetan Alexandros A arriving at Brindisi


The six purpose-built ships of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company were completed at British shipyards between 1957 and 1968 for ASN’s North Sea and Irish Sea operations and all had successful careers of varying lengths. Primarily freight ships they might today fall under that catchall phrase ‘ro-pax’ – they seem fairly traditional in external design to the modern eye, however the initial vessels, the 1957-built Bardic Ferry and the Ionic Ferry of the following year, were proclaimed as fairly revolutionary, being Britain’s first ro-ro freight ships, with the ability to also carry some passengers (55 as built).
ASN brochure, using their 'Transport Ferry Service' name.

ASN brochure, using their 'Transport Ferry Service' name.


The evolution of the series as further half-sisters were delivered was of a fairly cautious nature, the second pair (Cerdic Ferry (1961) and Doric Ferry (1962)) being slightly longer but with capacity for only 35 passengers. The final two vessels were one-offs, the Gaelic Ferry of 1964 being not dissimilar to the previous pair before the slightly racier Europic Ferry (1967) was rather longer and faster and took passenger capacity up to 160.


The ships all remained in service through the takeover of ASN by Townsend Thoresen in 1971, and remained useful for most of the 1970s. However, towards the end of that decade the earlier ships were becoming a little obsolete as larger and more modern tonnage was introduced and by 1982 the first four had been sold. The Gaelic Ferry excluded, each went on to have a second life with Southern European operators including the Europic Ferry which had lasted with TT’s successor P&O European Ferries until as late as 1993 before becoming Med Link Lines’ Aphrodite II.

Longest-lived however were the middle pair, the Ailsa, Troon-built Cerdic Ferry and Doric Ferry. Sold together to Libra Maritime in 1981 as the Atlas I and Atlas II, they served a variety of Adriatic and Aegean routes until onward sale in 1987/88, the ships ultimately being split up with the ex-‘Cerdic’ passing to Ventouris Sea Lines and the ‘Doric’ to Agoudimos as the Kapetan Alexandros (later the Kapetan Alexandros A). The ‘Cerdic’ neatly side-stepped the implosion of much of the Ventouris family’s shipping operations in 1995 by being sold within the family to A K Ventouris but was further sold in 1998, becoming the Orestes for Albanian service. Sadly, she was arrested and abandoned in Bari in 2000 and spent the subsequent seven years as a rusting hulk on the breakwater at the Italian port being finally being scrapped in 2007.

The story of the Kapetan Alexandros has been altogether more positive. With Agoudimos she was enlarged into a true passenger ferry, serving both domestic and international, Adriatic services. Named after Agoudimos Lines’ founder, Alexandros Agoudimos, the ship has since the turn of the century operated each year between Brindisi in Italy and Vlore in Albania, a sole constant as various competing vessels and operators on the same route have come and gone with unerring rapidity.

Her survival is in part a tribute to the strength of the hull and reliability of the machinery. Now one of the oldest open-sea car ferries in Europe (in fact probably the oldest, certainly transiting an international route?) she has once again in 2009 been scheduled for a complete season of sailings on the Vlore run, indeed she has even spent much of the Winter in operation, covering for the errant Ionian Spirit (ex-Roslagen/Viking 3) which was scheduled to maintain the off-season services before mechanical troubles took hold.

The following pictures of and on board the Kapetan Alexandros A were taken during a variety of sailings on the ship between 2004 and 2008. Significant parts of the ship’s interior can be described as having the ‘Greek 1980s’ look, however in the original spaces, essentially the original cabins and the forward lounge, the spirit of the original Doric Ferry survives. How much longer this can be the case is uncertain – a crew member on Corsica Ferries’ Mega Smeralda last year explained how he had left Agoudimos just to be away from the ship which he was less than flattering about, indeed it would probably be libellous to repeat some of the things said! – however each year she confounds expectations and returns to service, the last of a fine series of handsome British-built ferries.

Boarding for foot passengers is via the car deck.

Boarding for foot passengers is via the car deck.

Open the right doors and the Doric Ferry reveals herself once more...

Open the right doors and the Doric Ferry reveals herself once more...

Out on the forecastle

Out on the forecastle

The ship's original bell remains

The ship's original bell remains

Morning off the Albanian coast.

Morning off the Albanian coast.

Approaching Vlore.

Approaching Vlore.

Arriving in Vlore - the Red Star I (ex-Thoresen's Viking III) has sailed the same route but is rather faster so is on the berth first.

Arriving in Vlore - the Red Star I (ex-Thoresen's Viking III) has sailed the same route but is rather faster so is on the berth first.

Berthing on the exposed berths can be a bit tricky when you don't have bow thrusters.... the Kapetan Alexandros often needs the help of a tug, but gets there in the end. This image shows a first attempt - the ramp scraped along the pier before ending up at the correct right angle to it.

Berthing on the exposed berths can be a bit tricky when you don't have bow thrusters.... the Kapetan Alexandros often needs the help of a tug, but gets there in the end. This image shows a first attempt - the ramp scraped along the pier before ending up at the correct right angle to it.

Unloading at Vlore.

Unloading at Vlore.

On the berth in Vlore.

On the berth in Vlore.

Back on board for a return sailing to Brindisi. Starting with the accommodation added by Agoudimos, this is the ship's self-service restaurant, on the port side amidships.

Back on board for a return sailing to Brindisi. Starting with the accommodation added by Agoudimos, this is the ship's self-service restaurant, on the port side amidships.

This centre section separates the self-service from the bar, to starboard.

This centre section separates the self-service from the bar, to starboard.

The bar area.

The bar area.

The small Duty Free shop.

The small Duty Free shop.

Reclining seat lounge, aft on the starboard side.

Reclining seat lounge, aft on the starboard side.

Right forward, this lounge was the main passenger space as built, together with a restaurant.

Right forward, this lounge was the main passenger space as built, together with a restaurant.

The cabins in the forward part of the superstructure are original, without facilities but entirely wooden panelled. They retain plenty of period touches, such as punkah louvres for ventilation and little cup holders etc.

The cabins in the forward part of the superstructure are original, without facilities but entirely wooden panelled. They retain plenty of period touches, such as punkah louvres for ventilation and little cup holders etc.

Sailing back to Brindisi.

Sailing back to Brindisi.

The join where the Greeks extended the superstructure aft is clear - it's where the wooden decking stops and plain painted steel takes over.

The join where the Greeks extended the superstructure aft is clear - it's where the wooden decking stops and plain painted steel takes over.

Back on the berth in Brindisi's old port.

Back on the berth in Brindisi's old port.

Gone but not forgotten: Gabrielle (ex-Prinsessan Désirée, 1965)

The Gabrielle at Vlore, July 2003

The Gabrielle at Vlore, July 2003

From time to time I’ll dig out some older pictures from classic ferries which are no longer with us, having been scrapped – or worse. No. 1 is an interesting ship which had a lengthy Scandinavian career with two very distinguished operators before sailing off to Vietnam, and then the Red Sea, where everyone in Europe assumed no more would be heard from her. Rather unusually however she made a return, spending an eight year Indian Summer on the Southern Adriatic routes out of Bari and, latterly, Brindisi.

The ship is the Prinsessan Désirée, built for GFL (Sessan Linjen) in 1965 where she was pitched straight into the developing Battle of the Kattegatt against newcomers Stena Line on the Göteborg-Frederikshavn route. Sessan Linjen for me are one of the most interesting of operators – a car ferry pioneer who had stylish and upmarket ships but who were – ultimately – outmanoeuvred by a wily, innovative and populist competitor in Stena. The ‘Désirée’ was fairly quickly superseded and in 1970 was sold to the Vasa-UmeÃ¥ Line as the Fenno Express. And there she stayed, operating between Northern Sweden and Finland until the start of her Eastern adventures in 1989.

Less than half a year before she was finally sold for breaking, I made a sail on the ship as the Gabrielle, from Vlore in Albania to Brindisi in Italy. The ship was operating for a company called Prosperity Navigation although it is doubtful that they achieved their titular aim.

The 2001/02 Prosperity Navigation Brochure

The 2001/02 Prosperity Navigation Brochure

The Brindisi-Albania traffic is always very marginal but the ship found herself in competition against two fellow 1960s classics – the Europa I (ex-Jens Kofoed of 1963) and the Media V (ex-Viking I of 1964). If one had to classify these in terms of their condition, the Media V would be top and the Europa I bottom with the Gabrielle somewhere in between, so it is a matter of some surprise to me, in fact probably a matter of some regret, that the Europa I is at the time of writing the only one still surviving.

The Gabrielle was in fair condition, although the first thing you would probably notice as you came on board was the crumpled and ragged condition of much of the lino flooring, particularly in what had been the self service (now with a section partitioned off as a reclining seat lounge). However equally notable would be the acres of shining woodwork throughout the passenger spaces and the photo murals in the lobby spaces which were by noted Danish photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen. Sadly, the English Dining Room on the upper passenger deck (seen here on vasabatarna.se during her Fenno Express days) had been converted into cabins. A stylish and intricate restaurant was a feature of Sessan ships, right up to the last one, the Prinsessan Birgitta of 1981 (later Sealink’s St Nicholas) and the ‘Désirée’ had been no exception.

The Gabrielle and the Media V in the morning sun, awaiting clearance to enter Vlore

The Gabrielle and the Media V in the morning sun, awaiting clearance to enter Vlore

On the berth in Vlore

On the berth in Vlore

On our sailing there were few passengers, which might explain Prosperity Navigation’s swift demise soon after. A few couples and families apart, who took lunch in the old SmörgÃ¥sbord restaurant aft, most seemed content to sit in the forward bar on the lower deck, which became a smoking den where they played cards and drank the crossing away.

All of which left the rest of the ship to us to explore and photograph. That didn’t take too long however and my happiest memory is Read more »

The Southern Adriatic – a new Golden Age?

Igoumenitsa Classics

Igoumenitsa Classics

Michele Lulurgas’ epic 20-year trek through the ferries of the Adriatic highlights what in many ways can be seen as the sad decline of the area’s ferry operations as an oligopoly of large operators, hewn both out of once-proudly independent concerns such as ANEK and Minoan, alongside newcomers Attica, rose to the top.

It is true that many of the famous ferry names of the Adriatic’s original car ferry era are mostly gone: concerns such as HML, Fragline, Adriatica and Marlines and an indepedent Strintzis, all have long since ceased to operate on the Greece-Italy trade that once they dominated. Yet looking at the Southern ports of Bari and Brindisi in the Summer of 2008, no less than 31 conventional ships were to be found, from 15 different operators and only two of those ships came from one of the ‘Big Three’.

Those glory days of the late 1980s/early 1990s when the vintage ferry enthusiast wouldn’t know which way to turn as he faced choices of the Countess M (ex-Leopard) or the Corinthia (ex-Duke of Argyll), the Lydia (ex-Koningin Fabiola) or the Queen M (ex-Rangatira) will never return. Yet there remains enough within the current fleets to appeal. Perhaps the biggest difference now is that the journey will involve heading to Albania or Croatia or Montenegro. This should not deter since, as destinations, these countries offer as much if not more than Greece with spectacular scenery, relatively favourable exchange rates and varying degrees of ‘unspoilt’ and ‘undiscovered’.

Here we assess the 2008 Southern Adriatic operators and ponder the future in a market where short-lived operators have long been a fact of life.

The Apollon (ex-Senlac) at Corfu

The Apollon (ex-Senlac) at Corfu


European Seaways
Poor old European Seaways – just as they were getting a foot in the door with a second straight season running the Apollon from Brindisi to Igoumentisa, Agoudimos and Endeavor have a huge fall out and almost double their previous Brindisi-Greece capacity.

If you are going to operate a veteran ship in these waters, the Apollon has a strong pedigree – but she’ll never pass muster as a real overnight ship and seems one of the more mechanically troubled of the ex-Sealinks.

Over the Winter Mr Arkoumanis has deployed his ship in the Albanian trade and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her stay there next Summer. If the Veronica Line fails to reappear for 2009, what chance the Apollon filling the third Brindisi-Vlore slot?

The Ionian Spirit (ex-Roslagen/Viking 3) off Brindisi

The Ionian Spirit (ex-Roslagen/Viking 3) off Brindisi

Agoudimos
The partnership with Endeavor on the Bari-Patras route lasted from 2005 to 2007 but never seemed entirely happy and for 2008 it came to an end. Agoudimos pulled out all the stops, increasing their Greece-Italy fleet from two ships to four. Yet Shippax statistics show that for double the sailings, they took around half the passengers compared to 2007. Ouch.

Might Agoudimos follow the lead of famiy rivals GA Ferries a couple of years ago and withdraw completely from the Greece-Italy market? One feels that the net result could be the end of the Albanian veteran the Kapetan Alexandros A (ex-Doric Ferry). A freed-up Ionian Spirit would make a decent enough replacement.

Ionian Queen at Brindisi

Ionian Queen at Brindisi


Endeavor Lines
Who would have thought that the backpacker market out of Brindisi wasn’t dead after all? Indeed, who could have guessed that there was a market for parties of American tourists who needed to sail from Southern Italy to Greece? Working in co-operation with the former HML Italian agencies, Endeavor appear to have inherited the Brindisi Inter-Rail/Eurail concessions. Aware of the ongoing strength of the brand they also include the HML logo on the cover of their brochures.
All round, it seems to have been a storming year for Endeavor who will add the new Princess T to their fleet next year. At present, there has been no indication that one of the existing trio will drop out.

The Rigel at Durres

The Rigel at Durres

Ventouris Ferries
Ventouris’ three-ship strategy from Bari to Albania seems to have been calculated to kill off one or more of the competition. That hasn’t really happened and the benefit of adding the Rigel in capacity terms seems questionable. As a ship however she set high standards and raises the question as to why any discerning traveller would sail with any operator other than Ventouris or Adriatica on the Durres route. But they do.

To Igoumenitsa, the Siren and the Polaris, their vehicle decks crammed with freight and camper vans, plod ever onwards.

The Cesme at Ancona

The Cesme at Ancona

Marmara Lines
The sole remaining Italy-Turkey ferry operator. Demand still seems strong enough for the not insubstantial fares they charge; but it has to be a declining market, so will they be back for more in 2009?

Red Star I at Vlore

Red Star I at Vlore

Red Star Ferries/Skenderbeg Lines
Who are Red Star Ferries? Who are Skenderbeg Lines? I don’t know, but the former has taken the latter’s slots in Brindisi and they share a website. Skenderbeg’s venerable Europa I was supposed to sail from Otranto to Vlore this year but never set sail after the authorities intervened. She has remained laid up in Brindisi ever since. More happily, the Red Star I has established herself as market leader on Brindisi-Vlore.

Veronica Line (ex-Free Enterprise V) at Brindisi

Veronica Line (ex-Free Enterprise V) at Brindisi

Medglory Shipping
The company are called ‘Medglory Shipping’, but the ship is the Veronica Line.
They did operate from Otranto but it wasn’t to their liking so they started from Brindisi instead.
The ship was detained repeatedly in Brindisi and later retreated to lay up in Naples.
On the face of it, the omens for a 2009 return aren’t good.

Sveti Stefan II

Sveti Stefan II

Montenegro Lines
For a while Montenegro Lines followed the herd and sailed curiously to Albania as well as their home nation. That has now stopped and the ‘Svetis’ both sail to Bar again, from both Ancona and Bari. A nice pair of interesting ships they are too, although the crews can be mildly eccetric.

The Azzurra (image courtesy Ann Haynes)

The Azzurra (image courtesy Ann Haynes)

Azzurra Lines
Who sails with them? Why do they do it? Nobody knows, yet Azzurra have survived for eight seasons now so they must be doing something right. The Azzurra herself is a real classic from the 1960s Golden Generation of Scandinavian car ferries, albeit one now thoroughly refurbished.

Venezia at Durres

Venezia at Durres

Ilion Lines
The Venezia and Grecia continue on the Bari-Durres and Trieste-Durres routes. For enthusiasts, the fact that this class of four Livorno-built ships is now approaching classic status is a bit of a shock. The Ilion ships’ sisters, the Express Pegasus and the former Egitto Express (now the Riviera Del Conero and a regular visitor to Durres herself) have proven interesting in their own right so perhaps I owe this overlooked pair a sail. Former Adriatica fleetmate the Santa Maria I (ex-Sansovino) also made an appearance on Bari-Durres in 2008 for newcomers G Lines before retiring early to Piraeus with engine problems.

Flaminia off Bari

Flaminia off Bari

Adriatica
We shall continue to call them ‘Adriatica’ – no matter that they say Tirrenia on the hulls, as long as the winged lion remains on the funnels they retain a glimmer of former glories. And, truth be told, the old company doesn’t scrub up too badly on the Albanian run. The Flaminia and Domiziana offer a good quality operation – albeit with something of the old school of service, the retrofitted surroundings are nice and modern, on the Flaminia at least.

The Duchess M

The Duchess M

Marlines
So it’s come to this: one route, one ship. The Duchess M had a plentiful supply of German and French tourists amongst the full load when I sailed on her this August. No one seems to have told them that Marlines aren’t quite the top ferry operator they once were, or that the Duchess M is no Crown M. It was worthwhile to see what they had done to an ex-English Channel stalwart (answer: a lot, not much of it good) and worth it to say I had sailed with this famous old company. Had I only done it twenty years earlier….

The Liburnija

The Liburnija

Jadrolinija
The Liburnija and Marko Polo continue to maintain sailings to Dubrovnik out of Bari for Jadrolinija and a more perfectly preserved and maintained pair of classic ferries you couldn’t wish to find. Catch the sweet little Liburnija on a quiet sailing and she really captures the imagination. The ‘MP’ is more businesslike but together they offer a memorable way for the enthusiast to sail into or out of Croatia, one rivalled only by the Ancona up the coast between Split and Ancona.

Where next for the Blue Horizon?

Where next for the Blue Horizon?

Blue Star/Superfast
Last but by no means least, the only one of the ‘establishment’ operators to sail out of Southern Italy. The new Superfast I and II will be in operation together by the end of 2009 – which leaves a lingering question mark about what will happen to the existing ships. The Blue Horizon will stay until the arrival of the ‘II’ but already, with the return of the Blue Star 1 to the fold, at least two ships seem surplus to requirements. On the face of it these are the Superfast XII and possibly the Diagoras; SNCM may be a potential purchaser, looking around as they are for a new ‘Navire Mixte’ although the ‘XII’ might be too much of a passenger ship for their taste (never mind the price tag) whilst the Diagoras is probably too old. Perhaps a further reshuffle could free up Blue Star 1 or 2.

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