Posts tagged: hellas ferries

Farewell Senlac, Apollo Express, Express Apollon, Apollon

With minimal warning, the Apollon of European Seaways sailed for scrapping at Aliaga in Turkey on Thursday morning. Her final scheduled sailings on the Bari-Durres run were in mid-September, after which she retired to Salamis near Piraeus for a final lay up prior to departing one last time.

Originally the Senlac of 1973 the ship was the last of a trio for cross-channel services to be built by the naval dockyard in Brest. As outlined in The Senlac Story (which will be updated for the final chapter shortly) whereas her sister ships Hengist and Horsa were destined for Dover and Folkestone service, the Senlac was always intended for Newhaven-Dieppe and inherited the convoluted ownership structure of ships on that route. She was, however, resolutely British in terms of operation and manning – at least until January 1985 when the British Sealink sold up and she was transferred to the French flag.

The cover of the shipyard's brochure commemorating the Hengist, Horsa and Senlac.

A sale to Greece in late 1987 opened up the second chapter in her career – she became an incredibly successful and popular ship in domestic traffic with, successively, Ventouris Sea Lines, Agapitos Express Ferries and Hellas Ferries/Hellenic Seaways. For many years she was one of the primary ships on the key route from Piraeus through to Santorini and, after a couple of years away from this role, returned to the service for one last, brief, Summer in 2005. Her final owner was the Arkoumanis family, behind the long-standing fringe Adriatic operator European Seaways. At first she was used on sporadic services between Italy and Greece before, in 2009, being deployed to Durres in Albania out of the Italian port of Bari, latterly alongside the ex-Japanese Ionis. Occasional sailings to Greece continued but the Albanian routes more often than not form the final part of a ship’s career – and so it was with the Apollon.

The ship was latterly in somewhat poor mechanical health and this seems to have forced her owners’ hand – certainly it does not seem to have been a long-planned decision to let the ship go at this point in time. The 2010 timetable on the European Seaways website still shows her reappearing in December to offer additional sailings over the Christmas period. On the newly released 2010/11 schedule, these are now pencilled in for the Arkoumanis family’s other ship, the Bridge (ex-Bass Trader).

The Senlac’s demise can perhaps ultimately be traced back to her sale from Greek domestic service back in 2006 – and in some respects she paid the price for the continuing success of her sister ships. When the former Hengist and Horsa were sold in early 2004 to rival domestic operators, Hellas Ferries were soon kicking themselves as they were used in competition against their own ongoing services. This class of ship is almost perfect for Greek island hopping service and Hellas Ferries were determined, when the time came, to dispose of the former Senlac to an operator who would not use her in a competing trade. Unfortunately the Apollon was never entirely suitable as an overnight ship on the Adriatic and her mechanical fragility sealed her fate. Those intermittent mechanical gremlins didn’t, however, prevent the Apollon sailing to Aliaga under her own power, topping 17 knots at times as she sped to meet her doom.

Presented below are a few reminders of what was, despite the sudden end, the long and memorable career of a very popular ship.

The Senlac swinging at Newhaven.

The Senlac swinging at Newhaven.

Always a head-turner...

Always a head-turner...

Leaving Newhaven.

Leaving Newhaven.

The Senlac’s career spanned a period of massive transformation in the transport networks between the United Kingdom and France. The Newhaven-Dieppe brochure (above) from the year of the ship’s introduction offers passengers a 2202 departure from London Victoria which, via two boat trains and the 2345 Dieppe ferry, will get them into Paris Saint-Lazare in time for an early breakfast at 0625. Cross-channel weather permitting of course. For over a century the Newhaven route remained a key link in transport connections between London and Paris yet today it all seems part of another world.

The Senlac never received Sealink British Ferries livery but this leaflet (above), covering almost the final weeks of her career as a British ship, features the SBF name. By this stage the ship was offering ‘Casino Cruises’ (below) – not available on the French vessels.

The ability of the careers of car ferries to span periods of vast social and technological change whilst themselves seeming to remain remarkably UNchanged can be demonstrated through comparative vehicle deck images. Above is the Senlac in 1973, below the Apollon in 2007.

Although for her early years paired with the French 'V' ships, by 1984 the Senlac's Newhaven-Dieppe partners were the Chartres and chartered Cornouailles.

Although for her early years paired with the French 'V' ships, by 1984 the Senlac's Newhaven-Dieppe partners were the Chartres and chartered Cornouailles.

The Chartres followed the Senlac to Greece in 1993 and, three years later, the pair were reunited in the fleet of Agapitos Express after the demise of the Senlac's initial Greek owners Ventouris Sea Lines. Together they formed a formidable partnership on the Piraeus-Paros-Santorini chain - as advertised here in the 1999 Agapitos Express brochure.

The Chartres followed the Senlac to Greece in 1993 and, three years later, the pair were reunited in the fleet of Agapitos Express after the demise of the Senlac's initial Greek owners Ventouris Sea Lines. Together they formed a formidable partnership on the Piraeus-Paros-Santorini chain - as advertised here in the 1999 Agapitos Express brochure.

Latterly, the Senlac was also to be reunited with the Cornouailles which, as the Sveti Stefan, was often found on an adjacent berth at Bari in between her sailings to Bar in Montenegro.

Latterly, the Senlac was also to be reunited with the Cornouailles which, as the Sveti Stefan, was often found on an adjacent berth at Bari in between her sailings to Bar in Montenegro.

At Piraeus in August 1999, beneath the bows of Minoan Lines' King Minos.

At Piraeus in August 1999, beneath the bows of Minoan Lines' King Minos.

In late 1999 Agapitos Express was absorbed into Hellas Ferries and by the Summer of 2003 the Express Apollon could be found attempting to fill the shoes of the long-serving but recently sold Express Milos (ex-Vortigern) on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Kimolos-Milos run; she is seen here at Sifnos. Ultimately the Vortigern's true long-term replacement would be the Senlac's sister the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist).

In late 1999 Agapitos Express was absorbed into Hellas Ferries and by the Summer of 2003 the Express Apollon could be found attempting to fill the shoes of the long-serving but recently sold Express Milos (ex-Vortigern) on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Kimolos-Milos run; she is seen here at Sifnos. Ultimately the Vortigern's true long-term replacement would be the Senlac's sister the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist).

The Golden Summer of 2004 saw all three sister ships sailing for rival operators out of the secondary Athenian port of Rafina; the Express Apollon is seen here approaching the port of Gavrio on Andros.

The Golden Summer of 2004 saw all three sister ships sailing for rival operators out of the secondary Athenian port of Rafina; the Express Apollon is seen here approaching the port of Gavrio on Andros.

The Penelope A (ex-Horsa) chasing the Express Apollon into port, 2004. Image courtesy Tasos Papanastasiou.

Link: Hengist, Horsa, Senlac: The Rafina Summer of 2004

The Express Apollon is seen here at Santorini in 2005, her final Summer of Greek domestic operation and back on her original Greek route. This was shortly after she received the new blue hull Hellenic Seaways livery.

At Piraeus, July 2005.

At Piraeus, July 2005.

The cover of the 2010 European Seaways brochure - the ship's final season.

The cover of the 2010 European Seaways brochure - the ship's final season.

A final view - it is July 2010 and the ship is in Bari alongside a fellow former Newhaven-Dieppe ship, the Bari (ex-St Anselm/Stena Cambria). Designed by the same naval architects for the same operators and delivered just seven years apart, the evolution in design is striking.

A final view - it is July 2010 and the Apollon is in Bari alongside a fellow former Newhaven-Dieppe ship, the Bari (ex-St Anselm/Stena Cambria). Designed by the same naval architects for the same operators and delivered just seven years apart, the evolution in design is striking.

The St Anselm and her sisters were not however blessed with the trademark Sealink 'Rogan' funnel, seen here on the Apollon in 2007.

The St Anselm and her sisters were not however blessed with the trademark Sealink 'Rogan' funnel, seen here on the Apollon in 2007.

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The many faces of the Senlac.

The ship's bell - which disappeared after her final spell of Hellenic Seaways service in 2005.

The ship's bell - which disappeared after her final spell of Hellenic Seaways service in 2005.

A visit to the Masarrah (ex-St Columba, Stena Hibernia, Express Aphrodite)

Completed in 1977, the St Columba/Stena Hibernia became something of a legend on Irish Sea services through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Finally ousted by the arrival of the first of Stena’s HSS fast ferries, she was sold for further service exactly twenty years after she had arrived, heading for Greece as the Express Aphrodite. There the vessel seemed set to become a Greek institution, perhaps lasting as long as her former Sealink cousins, the famed Milos Express (Vortigern) or Apollo Express (Senlac).

The Express Aphrodite in 2005.

The Express Aphrodite in 2005.

Alas her triumphant reign on the Piraeus – Syros – Tinos – Mykonos schedule was to end earlier than many could have imagined. She latterly operated other routes for her subsequent Greek owners, Hellas Ferries/Hellenic Seaways, but was withdrawn at the end of the 2005 season, much earlier than her age and condition merited. Technical problems with the Express Santorini saw her unexpectedly return to service as cover in the Summer of 2006 but she was finally sold to Namma Lines of Saudi Arabia later that year. The ship had the bad luck to end up in the hands of HSW when they felt they no longer needed ships of this kind and, following the embarrassing bad experience of selling the Panagia Ekatontapiliani and Express Penelope to rival Greek operators who promptly put them into service against their former owners, were unwilling to sell to the many willing local buyers.

Earlier this year Richard Seville tracked the ship down in Safaga and here recounts his reunion with a ship which many believe should still be operating in Southern Europe.

The Masarrah at Perama in April 2007 undergoing refit prior to departure for her new career. Picture courtesy Nikos Thrylos.

The Masarrah at Perama in April 2007 undergoing refit prior to departure for her new career. Picture courtesy Nikos Thrylos.

As the Masarrah of Namma Lines, the former St Columba and Stena Hibernia is following several of her Sealink predecessors, and a number of her Irish Sea competitors, in spending her twilight years serving the pilgrim trade across the Red Sea. After essentially three incarnations under Sealink and later Stena, she was sold to Greek interests in 1997 and went on to spend a decade as a mainstay of Aegean island services. Somewhat prematurely withdrawn in 2006, she passed to the then rapidly expanding Namma Lines and after refit at Perama, entered service from both Suez and Safaga in Egypt to the Saudi port of Dhiba.

In April 2009, I was able to pay a visit to the Masarrah during a turnaround period in Safaga, and her extremely welcoming Egyptian crew showed me around from top to bottom. On board, given the unfavourable reputation of these routes, maintenance standards were surprisingly good and although rather worn in places, the interior was also relatively clean and tidy. In essence, little has changed since her final Irish Sea days although her new owners have gone to the trouble of renaming all the facilities with locally relevant names as well as removing most of the references to Stena Line which had continued to remain throughout her Greek service.

Key changes include the conversion of the Irish Bar into a Reception Lounge, the fitting of reclining seats in the former Pantry and duty-free shop, and the creation of a crew restaurant in the former pizzeria. I was treated with great hospitality throughout my time on board, given drinks and introduced to almost all the numerous crew as well as visiting officials. Preparations were underway for a midnight departure to Dhiba, and that evening I watched as conservatively dressed passengers loaded onto both the Masarrah and her fleetmate the, the former Superferry, which was lying alongside her. Lasting memories of the visit include a tide of blood running across the galley floor as lunch was being prepared, animatedly chatting with Egyptian officials with a faded promotional poster of Ireland as a backdrop and the tremendous hospitality shown by her crew who were astonishingly tolerant of an eccentric English enthusiast! Here we present a selection of on-board views of this much loved favourite.

The car deck.

The car deck.

Reception in the Irish Bar...

Reception in the Irish Bar...

...which is otherwise unchanged.

...which is otherwise unchanged.

The former pizzeria is now a new crew mess.

The former pizzeria is now a new crew mess.

Forward on Deck 5, this area was the Show Bar as the Stena Hibernia and First Class on the Express Aphrodite.

Forward on Deck 5, this area was the Show Bar as the Stena Hibernia and First Class on the Express Aphrodite.

Moving up to Deck 6, the former self-service restaurant, The Pantry, has now become a reclining seat lounge.

Moving up to Deck 6, the former self-service restaurant, The Pantry, has now become a reclining seat lounge.

Aft of the former Pantry, the shop has also had seating installed. This area originally housed the ship's rather avant-guarde discotheque.

Aft of the former Pantry, the shop has also had seating installed. This area originally housed the ship's rather avant-guarde discotheque.

The old crew mess is virtually unchanged since the ship was built.

The old crew mess is virtually unchanged since the ship was built.

The aft lobby on Deck 7 still retains Hellas Ferries branding...

The aft lobby on Deck 7 still retains Hellas Ferries branding...

...whilst elsewhere reminders remain of even earlier times in the ship's career.

...whilst elsewhere reminders remain of even earlier times in the ship's career.

Masarrah pictures © and courtesy Richard Seville.

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