In October 2001 Salamis Lines? Salamis Star made her final ferry crossing between Piraeus in Greece and Limassol in Cyprus, bringing an end to almost a quarter century of car ferry services between the two ports. The service, often extended to Haifa in Israel, had been inaugurated by a different company, Sol Lines, in 1977 using the fascinating and distinctive, four-funnelled former Japanese train ferry the Sol Phryne. Various other operators also tried their luck on the route and, after the demise of Sol Lines in the late 1980s, Salamis Lines entered the fray in 1993 using their own former rail ferry the Nissos Kypros (the beautiful and largely original, 1958-built former Trelleborg of the Swedish Railways).
In the two decades after the last sailing of the Salamis Star there was much talk of reinstating the operation but it wasn?t until May 2022 that the plans took full form when the Cyprus government granted a three year subsidised contract worth ?15.6m to a company called Scandro Holdings, a joint venture between ship managers Acheon Akti and tour operator Top Kinisis. Scandro, in turn, confirmed that they had chartered the 24,112gt car ferry Daleela for the service which would offer 22 round trips between June and September in the first season with crossing times of approximately 30 hours.
THE HANKYU FERRY CONNECTION
By coincidence this was not the first time the Daleela had succeeded the old Salamis Star on a ferry service. Salamis?s ship had been built for Hankyu Ferry in Japan as the Ferry Akashi of 1972. She was retired by Hankyu in 1991 (subsequently being massively rebuilt by Marlines and passing to Salamis Lines in 1999) and was replaced by the New Akashi, none other than the ship which eventually became the Daleela.
Hankyu Ferry were the pioneers of long-distance ferry operations in Japan?s Seto Inland Sea; founded in 1968 the company to this day sails daily overnight from Kobe and Izumiotsu to Shin-Moji. As with many Japanese ferry companies they have historically ordered ships in pairs and replaced them when still relatively young. So it was with the Ferry Akashi (whose sister the Ferry Nagato was also brought to Greece by Marlines in 1991 but languished out of use for 12 years before going for scrap) and so it was with the New Akashi which was delivered in 1991 by the Kanda Shipbuilding Co in Kure, her twin sister of the same year being the New Nagato.
In 2010 Hankyu reduced their fleet and operations from three pairs of ships to just two with the eldest sisters, by then the New Akashi and New Nagato, being sold. The ?Akashi? went to Chinese operator Weihai Jiaodong as the Grand Peace and, after that company?s purpose-built New Grand Peace was delivered in 2018, she was sold on again to a company affiliated with the Amman-based Arab Ship Management. Renamed Daleela she was brought to Suez for refit ahead of planned service in the Red Sea, receiving ‘Aletehad Line’ branding on the hull.
The announcement of the Daleela coming to the Limassol-Piraeus service piqued our interest and we were keen to try and fit in a sailing on her, especially as it seemed possible this might just be a one season wonder for the ship, the route or both. We weren?t able to confirm dates until quite late, however, and when in early August we contacted the booking agents, Top Kinisis, about reserving space one of the final departures out of Piraeus they reported that all sailings for the remainder of the year in that direction were fully booked. There was, however space, albeit not with cabin availability, on some of the sailings in the other direction. To get to the Daleela therefore involved flying from Athens to Larnaca to connect to the final westbound sailing of the year, leaving Limassol at lunchtime on Wednesday 14th September. The prices were very cheap indeed – with a reclining seat the base cost was just ?8 per person, on top of which were ?30 of taxes and fees.
After an evening in a downtown Limassol hotel, a pre-breakfast walk to the shoreline near the port entrance allowed a viewing of the Daleela entering port from the anchorage she had lain at since her previous sailing. After breakfast and checking out it was a short taxi ride to the passenger ship terminal, which is primarily used by cruise ships. The port is managed under concession to DP Ports and DP subsidiary P&O Maritime provides tug, pilot and other services. The booking agent and the reservation confirmation had been very insistent that we needed to be there three hours in advance of departure; this seemed doubtful but, despite expectations of a long wait in the terminal, as soon as the speedy check-in process and passport control were completed (Cyprus isn?t in Schengen), foot passengers were free to walk out onto the quayside, past the adjacent ship and board over the stern ramp, some 2? hours before departure.
The Daleela isn?t a cruise ferry, indeed she is probably less well fitted out than almost any current Greek overnight ferry. Her passenger accommodation was clean but rather functional ? indeed comparing the ship now to her original spec with Hankyu Ferry showed that it had been somewhat de-rated over time: gone was the small cinema/entertainment space just aft of reception (when she went to China this area had been given over to an extended lobby and a Duty Free shop; the shop had since been converted again and was now filled with slot machines); the original and intriguing ?Banquet Hall? meanwhile had been replaced at the same time by a gymnasium and prayer room, but both were closed and in use as crew storage and offices on this sailing.
The main lobby with its grand staircase (a longstanding feature on Japanese ferries) is amidships on Deck 6 with the two main public rooms being forward and aft in the accommodation on this deck: the self-service restaurant at the stern (largely original in layout, albeit with new furniture) and the pleasant bar/lounge forward, separated from the lobby by a large area of reclining seats ? the latter was where I expected to spend the night. A small section aft which once housed a waiter service restaurant had been absorbed into the main self-service.
As built the New Akashi had overnight accommodation typical for Japanese ferries of her era: what is now the reclining seat lounge and the forward bar were large, open-plan Second Class sleeping areas where passengers would be provided with some carpeted flooring, a blanket and a pillow to bed down, side by side with other travellers. On the deck above were the standard first class cabins (now provided with bathrooms) as well as a small area of capsule berths (all now gone and replaced with more conventional cabins). The topmost deck of accommodation, Deck 8, had, and has, the original deluxe cabins, with bathrooms, as well as the ?Royal Room?, a VIP suite.
The lack of en-suite facilities in all but the top-grade cabins reflected the Japanese tradition of public baths, separate for women and men, and these were found at the after end of the accommodation on Deck 7. The baths on the New Akashi were amongst the first on Japanese ferries to provide a panoramic view with large picture windows offering a view of both the passing seascape and the after decks ? to preserve the modesty of those inside, however, in Japanese service these stern areas of outside deck were closed off from public use with passengers instead being provided with open deck upstairs, effectively on the roof just above and forward of the baths. Since being sold from Japanese service the deckhouse which housed the baths has been demolished and all the open decks towards the stern have been made available for passengers.
We departed on time at 1300, waiting until the last minute for any stragglers to arrive (the last car turned up at the port and were almost immediately boarded at 1255, no three hour check in for them!). The Daleela was hustled away by a pair of P&O-branded tugs, past the Salamis Lines freighters Akritas (ex-Aurora) and Vassilios (ex-Transbaltica), whose operations in the Cyprus to Greece trades are protected from the new subsidised operation by the very specific stipulation that it is for passengers and cars only, with no cargo being carried. This, combined with passenger capacity being restricted to a reported 400, means the Daleela?s twin freight decks were somewhat excessive for the volumes on the route and she rode visibly quite high out of the water in this use.
Upon boarding, reception had advised that, after departure, it may be possible to upgrade to a cabin. Despite these having been sold out when we booked a large number seemed to be available and a short cabin cavalcade followed as the helpful crew took us on a quick guided tour of the various options. Their recommendation for one of the newly refitted inside twin-berths with a brand-new bathroom was politely rejected in favour of an original, slightly battered four-berth outside. This had been provided with a bathroom at some point but retained its original seating area and built-in Japanese radio set.
As we left Limassol behind, further exploration of the Daleela revealed few diversions for her passengers other than the delight of being at sea, although a few arcade games and a table football table were provided in the self-service. The lack of wi-fi appeared to be a complaint for some of my fellow travellers but I found reading a book on the almost old-fashioned covered side promenades was a most pleasant way to spend a couple of hours before the sun set on the first evening.
Snacks and drinks were always available in the forward bar and the self-service also opened for lunch and dinner with, on this crossing at least, food from the decently varied menu being cooked to order. The standard was adequate, a tasty pizza, albeit somewhat pricey at ?11, on the first night being marginally better than the lasagne enjoyed for lunch on the second day.
By Thursday morning we were well into Greek waters and mobile and data signals could be received from Crete as we passed by, picking up subsequent islands later on. In the afternoon passing ships became more common: the WorldChampion Jet on her inbound Santorini-Naxos-Mykonos-Syros-Piraeus sailing, in the distance the Ionis of Triton Ferries running from Kea to Lavrio and, even further away, the distinctive red hull of Goutos Lines? veteran Macedon (celebrating her 50th year in service) on the same route. The inbound Highspeed 4 on her final leg from Paros also passed whilst the Ariadne, headed for Rhodes, was the first of the Piraeus evening departures to cross our bow. The day cruise ship Cosmos of Evermore Cruises (ex-Aegean Glory) was the last ship to be seen before twilight brought us to the busy approaches off Piraeus where we stopped, awaiting a pilot to take us into port.
As we waited a distant dot on the horizon astern gradually turned into Seajet?s Aqua Jewel, bound from Kissamos, Antikythira and Kythira. She breezed past us and, with our pilot now aboard, we followed her into a well-filled Great Harbour where most of the fast ferries had returned from their daily itineraries whilst the evening Cretan departures were loading. With more tug assistance we were reversing onto our berth at Piraeus?s Cruise Terminal just after 8pm, an hour late. Disembarkation was again over the stern ramp with a walk around the quayside into the terminal building to have our passports stamped for re-entry into Greece.
The Daleela is a fine, solid ship but one with few frills. She delivered us in a timely fashion, was clean and tidy but, save for perhaps the forward bar, is lacking in any real concessions to luxury.
As the season concluded reports in the Cypriot press about the service?s success appeared to conflict with what we had been told. 7,162 passengers had been carried (around 163 per sailing). Yet we?d been advised in August that all remaining eastbound sailings from then until the end of the season were fully booked ? on a 400 capacity ship the averages of all other crossings must have been rather low for those figures to work out. Coming on top of the rather strange cabin availability situation it did make one wonder whether there were teething issues with the booking process, crossed wires or if something else going on.
Despite this confusion, I hope the economics of the service have been made to stack up and that it returns for 2023 and beyond. And, whilst a ship with more frills might be preferable, it?s more likely that the Daleela will return, perhaps improved or slightly upgraded. With the lessons of the first season out of the way just a few tweaks could make the Limassol-Piraeus crossing a very attractive and enjoyable way for tourists to travel between Cyprus and Greece.