Panagia Tinou (most recently Agios Georgios, originally the Hengist of 1972).
Half sunk in Piraeus harbour, July 2016.
Panagia Tinou (most recently Agios Georgios, originally the Hengist of 1972).
Half sunk in Piraeus harbour, July 2016.
2012 was an exciting year of travel with a first, but most definitely not last, ferry-centric trip to Japan where a whole new world of ships and shipping culture was revealed to us. The Japanese experience was, taken as a whole, the most memorable event of the year: after more than nine years of deliberation and 28 months of planning it went almost completely without a hitch and the Japanese were unfailingly helpful, polite and tolerant towards this small band of Europeans who had come to sail on their ships for no other reason than their being there.
Home waters were not neglected and plenty of European ferries were road tested this year; the ongoing economic gloom in Greek and Italian and Moroccan waters are perhaps the greatest concerns for the immediate future and one wonders just where things will end – with long-established operators withdrawing virtually overnight how many of 2012’s ships will make it to the starting line of the 2013 summer season?
In total, 84 ships were sailed on or visited this year, of which two were museum ships and one a floating bar. 27 nights were spent at sea and the average age of the 84 ships was 22 years old compared to 23 in 2011.
Based purely on subjective feelings on those 84 vessels, here are some bests and worsts of the year.
In Italy, Moby-owned TOREMAR have made moves to improve the offering on their ships and the Oglasa for Elban service was changed beyond recognition. As with the Mercandia IV, the redesign has taken cues from the parent entity and where Moby have long been affiliated with Looney Tunes cartoon characters, on the Oglasa, Andy Capp makes an appearance in on-board signage. Crazy or genius?
All of the above and more were worthy of consideration but, in the year of their 40th birthdays, the former Hengist and Horsa win out as 2012’s best oldies. Sailings on the Agios Georgios and Penelope A in September reconfirmed that these veteran Channel ferries remained excellent performers in their second careers. The Penelope A’s four decades of service have now been equally split, save for the aberration of the 1990 summer at Holyhead, between the Folkestone period (1972 to 1991) and twenty years operating out of Rafina (1992 to 2012). The news in December that she had been withdrawn due to the financial woes of her owners Agoudimos Lines was, if not surprising, a warning of the fate which awaits many of the Greek coastal fleet in times when the Greek government cannot be relied upon to pay the subsidies shipowners rely upon to serve the islands.
Frederikshavn to Gothenburg sailings on the Stena Danica and the Stena Scanrail were real highlights, as was the day-long transit with the Ferry Azalia from Tsuruga to Niigata and overnight on the Kitakami from Tomakomai to Sendai. However, the two night sailing between Venice and Patras with ANEK Lines’ Kriti II in August was really special, on an elderly ferry which was subsequently withdrawn. Departure from Venice through the Canale della Giudecca was spectacular and the sail down the Croatian coast, to Igoumenitsa, Corfu and finally the old port of Patras was memorable. ANEK’s occasionally average service standards were not an issue on this sailing and even the food was pretty good. One cannot imagine quite the same experience will be enjoyed aboard the replacement Italian ro-paxes which have now been deployed on the route.
The lasagne on the Superspeed 2 and the buffet on the Hamlet were excellent, our ability to nearly cause a fire whilst self-cooking waffles on the latter notwithstanding. The Steam Packet’s Manannan amazingly conjured up an excellent plate of pasta. Best of all, however, was “Le Piana” restaurant aboard CMN’s new flagship. Locally-sourced and beautifully presented, this company consistently serves up the best food on any Mediterranean ferries.
I can struggle to think of any redeeming features of the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s Ben-my-Chree. She may be a reliable freighter but the experience for the general passenger is woeful with poorly thought-out and dreary saloons. When Bornholmstraffiken ordered a subsequent pair of this off-the-shelf design they instructed the best in the business to try and bring some dignity to the passenger spaces but even Steen Friis Hansen could improve things only marginally. Absent any such guiding hand, the Ben-my-Chree remains a real stinker.
Grandi Navi Veloci’s Splendid, sailing between Genoa and Olbia in June, was late, dirty and had the rudest crew members I’ve seen in years, with some in the cafeteria hurling abuse at passengers and another in one of the bars who took my money and then tried not to provide the paid-for drinks. The ship was a great advertisement for the competing services of Moby and Tirrenia.
Most decrepit ferries
A distinction can be made between poor general deck maintenance and the pits of on-board decrepitude that befalls some Southern European ferries when some passenger spaces fall into disuse. As with the Seatrade in 2011, venturing into certain areas of the Theofilos and Ile de Beaute made one wonder just how things had got into this state.
To me, the 1979 Spirit class showed Townsend Thoresen at their very best, the sheer arrogant brutality and originality of their design in many ways epitomising TT in their peak years. Somehow the Pride of Dover and her sister lacked a similar dynamism but perhaps this was partly through choice: entering service under a post-Herald cloud, the flamboyance and aggressiveness that defined TT had now suddenly to switch to an era in which P&O European Ferries were a sober and reassuring cross-Channel choice. Externally, by adding length but not height to the Spirit class, they were always too squat to claim either conventional attractiveness or the eye-catching brutalism of their predecessors. The ‘Dover’ looked her best with a P&O full blue hull; she was not helped when P&O adopted the current “pants pulled down” livery.
On board, the pair really were scaled-up Spirits and whilst they expanded on the successes of that class and proved formidable freight movers over more than two decades, even when delivered their interiors were disappointing. In 1987 Shippax memorably published an image of one of the Pride of Dover’s old-fashioned seating lounges, contrasting it unfavourably with other recent ferries. To avoid embarrassing her owners in front of the industry they did not name the ship but the point was harshly reinforced within a couple of years when Sealink’s Fantasia and Fiesta were delivered, which prompted the first of a couple of significant refurbishments. Despite these modifications, few of the original passenger saloons ever really achieved coherence or attractiveness.
Nonetheless, with their scale and reliability and with the express operation P&O were able to subsequently pioneer, the two ships helped to show how the ferry industry could survive in a post-Tunnel era and the demise of the Pride of Dover without any chance of a second career is regrettable.
I will miss the Normandy rather more, even though by the time I got to know her she was well past her best (some would say the ship was in decay from the moment she was handed over to Sealink in 1983). There was nothing old-fashioned or miserly about Sessan’s final ferries; from the lavish dining saloons to the vast tiered show lounges, these beautifully-appointed jumbo ferries had a significant influence, even if the operator who ordered them had been subsumed into Stena before they fully entered service. Almost unthinkably the Kronprinsessan Victoria (now Stena Europe) has gone on to become Stena’s longest-serving passenger ship; but her sister passed from operator to operator over the years, never really being looked after by anyone, least of all her neglectful final owners who abandoned the ship to the ravages of the Singaporean climate, making her demise sadly inevitable.
29 April 2012 marks 40 years to the day since the launch of Sealink’s Hengist and Horsa, the purpose-built ferries delivered in the summer of 1972 by the naval shipyard in Brest. The sister ships saw service, primarily from their Folkestone home, until the final closure of the Folkestone-Boulogne route at the end of 1991. Thereafter, both forged remarkably successful new careers in the Aegean, where they remain in year-round operation as the Agios Georgios (Ventouris Sea Lines) and Penelope A (Agoudimos Lines).
A third, slightly modified, later sister, the Senlac, was scrapped in 2010.
In this entry we take a look back at the ships’ British careers through Sealink promotional material produced over their near two decades of service.
What, meanwhile, has become of the ‘Nordica”s sister, the first Stena Danica? The ship saw lengthy service after 1969 as the Lucy Maud Montgomery in Canada before disposal in 1999. The most recent images I can find of her are as the Lady Caribe I, laid up in Key West in the early 2000s. In late 2007 Shippax reported her sold to “Dominican buyers” but there the trail goes cold.
Quite what to expect here is difficult to say – other than the Eurovoyager most of the above named are in regular service. There have been a couple of casualties from the area in 2010 already in the Sara 1 and Euroferrys Atlantica but with a reportedly disappointing Summer perhaps there is scope for some further cutbacks. The most likely vessel perhaps, other than the Eurovoyager, might be the oldest – COMANAV’s Bni Nsar has created a notably negative public reputation but has, however, remained in service beyond 30 September.Tunisia’s 1970s ship of state, the Habib, is a lovely 1970s veteran – sort of an Africanised, originally two-class-version of TT Lines’ Peter Pan and Nils Holgersson of 1974/75. With the new Hanibal due for delivery in 2012, if the Habib is compliant with the safety requirements of the so-called ‘Stockholm Agreement’ one would expect her to return for one final fling in 2011 – but crew members were adamant 2010 was her final season when we sailed on the ship in June. Both Sardinia Ferries and Moby on their longer passenger routes have a collection of 1970s-built ships matched with vessels from the past decade – and not too much in between. Moby’s Drea, Otta, Vincent, Fantasy and Corse are all vital parts of the network and one cannot imagine them being replaced in the near future – the Fantasy continually punches above her weight on the Olbia-Civitavecchia route and is perhaps the weakest of the classic ferries. The Moby Vincent (ex-Stena Normandica, St Brendan) is the oldest but both Moby and their yellow-hulled rivals seem content to each employ one of these Rickmers-built ferries as their regular ships on the Livorno-Bastia route. If one or other was replaced with something new I can imagine the rival operator would respond pretty quickly – but who will blink first?
Both Moby and Corsica Ferries have been able to add capacity seemingly at will in recent years, and the latter’s elderly ladies seem equally secure – for now. The Sardinia Vera and sister Corsica Marina Seconda, the Sardinia Regina and sister Corsica Victoria plus the Corsica Serena Seconda all appear in the Summer 2011 timetables.Moby’s five Babies on the Elban routes have an average age of 37 years and recently the company made statements about ordering six new ships to replace them, together with the Bastia on the Santa Teresa-Bonifacio run. Nothing firm has happened on that front yet – so these classics look set to continue for some time to come. The 1966-built Moby Baby (ex-Svea Drott, Earl Godwin) is the now surely the oldest ship operating for anything like a mainstream multi-route operator in the EU (save maybe for Balearia’s Arlequin Rojo) but the even smaller Moby Ale (ex-Mikkel Mols, 1969) would seem likely to be the first to go if Moby were to have a cull. For now that doesn’t seem likely as all five ships are hard-pressed on the busy Summer Saturdays. Upstarts Blunavy made an entry onto the Piombino-Portoferraio route in 2010 and, after an apparently relatively successful season, claim they are looking for a different ship to the Primrose (ex-Princesse Marie Christine). Something with a better air conditioning system might be a good idea. The sweaty, beaten-up old Primrose has to be high on the list of likely ships to head straight for scrap from here. One elderly ex-Moby ship which has thus far evaded the scrappers is the Don Peppino of Gestur. Originally the MalmÃ¸ of 1964, she spent 24 years with Moby as the Citta di Piombino but was subsequently laid up for a period in Naples. Reactivated in 2008 she is a sweet little thing but can’t have too many years left now. There remain several other interesting ships laid up in Naples but the largest two – the Medmar overnight pair Donatella D’Abundo and Giulia D’Abundo – have now both gone for scrap. The most disappointing departures from Italian domestic service after 30 September were SNAV’s ex-North Sea Ferries pair SNAV Campania and Sicilia (ex-Norland and Norstar). Originally rumoured to have been sold for scrap, they are now both at anchor off Jeddah awaiting use, presumably as pilgrim ships for the Hajj in November, after which their futures remain unclear. After the Sibari (1970) went for scrap last year, question marks hung over the remaining two classic train ferries on BluVia’s Messina-Villa San Giovanni route, the Iginia (1969) and Rosalia (1973). I travelled with the Rosalia in early September and she has clearly had a little bit of cash spent on her recently (although still retaining the faded glory look of all the ships on this route). Meanwhile the Iginia was to be found having some attention in dry dock in Messina so on this basis they seem secure for now. However the Logudoro, half-sister to the route’s more modern pair, the Villa and Scilla, remains laid up in Naples – if BluVia ever get around to instating her in Sicilian traffic, the lovely Iginia could be doomed. Just as the future of Tirrenia is unclear, so it is for their oldest ship, the Domiziana. A (relatively) unrebuilt member of the Strade Romana class she has been moved to the Southern Italian port of Crotone for disposal – scrap must be a real option although I would still bet on her being acquired by another operator looking for replacement tonnage. To the East of Italy the number of elderly ships under threat grows exponentially, first but not least with Jadrolinija. The Croatian national operator has, since the disposal of the Ivan Zajc in 2009, been reduced to four ships capable of realistic use on the coastal and international services. This has meant the Zadar operating Zadar-Ancona, the Dubrovnik on Split-Ancona, the Marko Polo the coastal service, Rijaka-Split-Stari Grad-Korcula-Dubrovnik and on to Bari in Italy, with the little Liburnija operating Korcula-Dubrovnik-Bari.
The Marko Polo will be upgraded over the Winter to meet the new safety requirements but it seems inevitable that the Liburnija will henceforth be restricted to domestic use – if anything. She was Jadrolinija’s first car ferry of any real size and ever since her introduction in 1965 has been lovingly looked after. Now quite antiquated one can only wonder if she will return in 2011 and, if so, what route a ship with cabin accommodation would be suitable for if not the coastal/international lines.Of the other Jadrolinija ships in service in 2010 the most interesting threatened vessel is the 1965-built Vis, originally the Sydfyn. She has been with Jadrolinija for 34 years now but the feeling amongst her crew was that this was her final year. Aliaga awaits. Whereas a couple of Jadrolinija ships have headed for scrap the majority of the coastal fleet, once no longer wanted, appear to be sent to lay up in various parts of the country. For example the onetime Red Funnel pair Lovrjenac (ex-Norris Castle) and Nehaj (ex-Cowes Castle) have been mouldering in Cres and Mali Losinj respectively for several years now. The picture above shows Cres in August 2008 with the Nehaj, Porozina (ex-Esefjord) and Bozava visible and, beyond, the Ero, Ozalj and Zigljen. The Porozina has since seen further service but the future of the remainder looks bleak, with the Bozava reportedly already gone. If the fate of many of Jadrolinija’s old car ferries is uncertain, what then of the four remaining classic passenger ships? The Postira, Premuda, Ozalj and Tijat all still had niche roles in various parts of the country in 2010 but there are grumblings in some areas about the service offered. Many of these ship’s sisters and contemporaries have found their way into static use so one would expect the same might apply when the service careers of these veterans finally come to an end. The Montenegro Lines fleet is in varying states of disrepair. To all intents and purposes they are the only passenger sea line into the country so doubtless will carry on – but it would be nice if they could do something about the state of their ships, the Sveti Stefan II in particular. After seemingly disappearing for all of October, the latter ship returns to service at the start of November and is timetabled through to the end of the year. But what about her little red-hulled counterpart? One doesn’t know what the Azzurra of Azzurra Line is up to at the best of times so perhaps the most recent AIS signal from the 1964-built ex-Grenaa shouldn’t be a surprise – she is not laid up near her normal Bari-based Adriatic home but is instead at Tasucu in Turkey, having previously paid a call into in Northern Cyprus. Has she entered service on the Tasucu-Gazimagusa route?! With her fleetmates all gone for scrap, the Arberia (ex-Bore Star, Orient Express, Wasa Queen) of Halkydon Shipping, for now, ploughs on alone between Bari and Durres in Albania. If Halkydon do complete their withdrawal from the passenger shipping business, this ferry will have to find new owners – going for scrap seems unlikely but in the current climate anything is possible. Perhaps Mr Munk of Sunlink Ferries will finally get his ship? G Lines’ Santa Maria I (ex-Sansovino) seems to have found little success since first being tried on the competitive Bari-Durres service in 2008. Beset by machinery problems in her inital seasons, she has now retired once again to Drapetsona – will she ever see proper service again?
Alongside her in the picture above is Ventouris Ferries’ Rigel (ex-Bore I). This ship and her three quite elderly Adriatic fleetmates (average age – 35) seem set to continue to operate – the Polaris is presently having a not insignificant refit with her place, for now, being taken by Agoudimos’ Ionian King.Brindisi and the Southern Albanian port of Vlore have been the last operational ports of call for a number of notable ferries, from Thoresen’s Viking I, through SNCF’s Transcontainer I to Sessan’s 1965-built Prinsessan DesirÃ©e. The route has in recent years been home to three further veterans, the Viking I’s sister, the Viking III of 1965 (now Red Star I), her ex-Townsend Thoresen fleetmate Free Enterprise V (1970, now Veronica Line) and Agoudimos’s sprightly youngster the Ionian Spirit (ex-Viking 3, Roslagen (1972)).
The Veronica Line has again gone into hibernation for the Winter but the Red Star I and Ionian Spirit continue to sail. Whilst this route has a history of sudden disappearances the latter two seem quite secure for now. The Veronica Line may be a casualty of the Stockholm Agreement but there is every chance we won’t know about it until she fails to reappear for 2011.Now laid up in Igoumenitsa the Penelope (ex-European Gateway) appears simply to be bedding down for the Winter rather than anything else and there seems every likelihood this unusual ship will return for 2011. One of the most popular Greek ferries is the evergreen Theofilos of NEL Lines, which has sailed through the September SOLAS deadline and continues on an interesting Northern Aegean itinerary. The future is, however, cloudy for the former Nils Holgersson (1975) and one can only hope she will live to see another Greek Summer. ANEK Lines have a series of ex-Japanese overnight ferries which are more than 30 years old deployed in domestic service: the Ierapetra L, Kriti I, Kriti II, Lissos, Lato and Prevelis. Although the Lissos is engaged in heavy competition with NEL on the route up to Chios and Mytilene, far from ANEK’s usual base, the remainder are in use on core or subsidised services and there is no imminent prospect of replacement. For now the elderly ANEKs seem safe. Not such a happy future awaits the laid-up fleets of GA Ferries and SAOS. GA’s abandoned ships still dominate the Great Harbour in Piraeus whilst SAOS’s, including ex-British pair the Samothraki (Viking Voyager) and Panagia Soumela (Lady of Mann), are concentrated in Alexandropoulis in an increasingly decrepit state. It seems likely that the majority of these will head straight for scrap once the financial wrangling is finally concluded. There are also dozens of ships laid up in the shipyards around Piraeus – many of which will never see service again. One such is the Duchess M of Marlines, originally the Wanaka and later Brittany Ferries’ Breizh-Izel. The final season of the final ship of the once glorious Marlines was 2008 and she has been laid up in Elefsis ever since. A one-way journey to the scrapyard is the only realistic result for this ship and so many of the others, including the Okeanis (ex-Free Enterprise) and the Alkyon (ex-Gotlandia).
The Express Santorini (ex-Chartres) and the Scotia Prince (ex-Stena Olympica, top picture) have also arrived in the area recently – they are both now at Drapetsona. The former ship is scheduled to carry out relief sailings through the Winter and a further Summer on charter in the Azores apparently awaits in 2011. For the Scotia Prince the future has to be less certain – she had a heavy refit before the 2010 season which she spent on charter to Marmara Lines for service between Italy and Turkey. It would be great news if this was repeated, but will Marmara Lines be back for 2011?Although Blue Star Ferries have spent the money to repair her following her coming together with a pier in Tinos, the Superferry II is under threat from the new ships, Blue Star Delos and Blue Star Patmos, currently being built in Korea. The subsequent reshuffle of ships upon their delivery in will almost certainly see the end of the former Prince Laurent. Lastly, are Ventouris Sea Lines’ Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) and Agoudimos Lines’ Penelope A (ex-Horsa) under threat? Not just yet it seems and both have a Winter of Greek domestic sailing ahead of them.
Comprehensive pictures of and on board the Swedish pair in both their early years and latterly when they each headed to Southern Europe can be found here:
Meanwhile, the headline ‘Disgusting!’ sums up environmentalists’ concerns about the ship’s alledged dumping of garbage in the Arabian Sea.
For the record, the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) had a hiccup with an engine failure a couple of days ago, returning to Piraeus to discharge her passengers. She has since resumed her regular services.
Please send any contributions for ‘Things Seen’ to email@example.com.
Although Ventouris Sea Lines’ unprepossessing website gives little away, the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) remains the key conventional ship on operations from Piraeus to the Western Cyclades. New competition has emerged this year in the shape of the rebuilt Adamantios Korais of expansion-minded Zante Ferries which has effectively replaced the Romilda, but the Agios Georgios remains the only conventional ship to offer daily departures from Piraeus. There are also regular calls at Milos by ANEK’s passing Prevelis which has taken over a roundabout Piraeus-Rhodes circuit similar to that previously operated by the Vitsentzos Kornaros. Fast ferry connections are offerred this year by the Speedrunner IV (ex-SuperSeaCat Four) and Hellenic Seaways, having long left the conventional sailings to the Agios Georgios, provide a daily round trip with the Highspeed 3, whilst Sea Jets‘ passenger only Super Jet daily connects Piraeus-Milos-Folegandros (-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi).
Peter Kidman sends these pictures of the Agios Georgios, taken in July. VSL made further investment during the ship’s refit earlier in the year, which resulted in the addition of eight rather unsightly square windows on the starboard side forward enclosed promenade (part of the First Class accommodation).
Over at Athens’ secondary port, the Penelope A (ex-Horsa) remains on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos route she has maintained ever since she first came to Greece in 1992. Competition on this routing remains hot, but unchanged from last year, with Blue Star’s Superferry II (ex-Prince Laurent) theoretically perhaps the main rival, with the insurgent Aqua Jewel and Theologos P of Alpha Ferries and Cyclades Fast Ferries (sic) respectively also competing. The Seajet 2 and Highspeed 2 also buzz around in and amongst the conventional ships.
Patrick Vandeputte has sent these recent images of the Penelope A at Tinos.
The third sister, the more elusive Apollon (ex-Senlac) has been in service for European Seaways throughout the Summer, operating alongside the rather less appealing Ionis between Bari (Italy) and the port city of Durres (Albania). The Dover Ferry Photos Forum has recent pictures here (registration required). These are but two of at least thirteen conventional ships operating on the Bari-Durres route this Summer, of which the most notable to North Europeans perhaps are the Rigel (ex-Baltic Kristina/Ilich/Bore I) and the Arberia (ex-Wasa Queen/Orient Express/Bore Star).
With thanks to Peter Kidman and Patrick Vandeputte for the 2009 pictures of the Agios Georgios and Penelope A respectively.