Piraeus, the city whose vast harbour serves as the port of Athens is, arguably, the greatest port in the world. To the enthusiast, the vast array of passenger ships of all types lined up right around the Great Harbour is captivating and almost astonishing. Yet the reality is that Piraeus can also be hot, dirty and, occasionally, somewhat seedy. To the foreign traveller it is a confusing mess of ticket offices, unknown ships and traffic – everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and where they’re going but to the unfamiliar it is almost impenetrable. I remember how once we encountered an exhausted young backpacker with a ticket for the departure, fifteen minutes hence, of the Panagia Ekatontapiliani in tears at the impossibility of finding her ship – although the vessel was clearly visible to us just a short walk away.
The mass of Greek domestic ferry operators has long been as confusing as its primary port. A rise and eventual fall seems almost inevitable for all but the very lucky few – some last a few months, some a few years and some decades, but history suggests that most will disappear eventually through merger, takeover, disaster, bankruptcy or just decline and disappearance. The nature of Piraeus, with its hundreds of ticket agencies and many abandoned office buildings means that memories of those ships and operators which have fallen by the wayside tend to linger. For example, nearly a decade after the 1995 collapse of Ventouris Sea Lines that company’s hoardings and the giant billboard images of their fleet of classic ex-UK car ferries could be seen on display near the berths from which they used to sail. And, as these pictures from last year show, with the numbers of individual operators much reduced from previous decades, many of the dozens of defunct ferry companies and their ships still make their presence felt whilst some of the modern hoardings of today’s operators will doubtless, in due course, become relics themselves.