-by Kevin Griffin of The Cruise People, London, writing for cybercruises.com
Whether or not Greece remains within the Euro, to-day’s cruise industry means nothing like it once did to that country. Greece basically introduced Mediterranean cruising in the 1930s and then practically created a new industry in the 1950s when some of its major shipowners placed a number of Italian-built war reparations ships into cruising among the Greek Islands.
Names such as Chandris, Epirotiki, Goulandris, Kavounides, Nomikos, Sun Line, Typaldos and others once managed a shipping fleet that has almost totally disappeared.
To-day, Greece’s participation in the cruise market consists of Celestyal Cruises, the four-ship arm of the Cypriot-based Louis Group, and Global Cruises, which owns half of the UK’s Cruise & Maritime and operates three of its fleet of four ships.
Only Aegean Odyssey Maritime and small ship operator Variety Cruises, whose total fleet accounts for just a few hundred berths, now represent the local industry.
Cruising in Greece is nowhere near what it once was.
The biggest earner in cruise revenues in Europe last year for example was Italy, with €4.6 billion. Italy was followed by Germany with €3.2 million, the UK with €3.2 million, Spain with €1.2 million, France with €1.1 million, Norway with €591 million, Finland with €582 million and, in eighth place, Greece, with €506 million.
The cruise industry last year was worth nine times as much to Italy as it was to Greece.
Likewise, Greece produced only 18,441 cruise passengers last year and it employed 10,136 workers, compared to 102,284 in Italy, 71,022 in the UK, 49,559 in Germany, 25,483 in Spain, 15,101 in France and 14,745 in Norway. The cruise industry has created ten times as many jobs in Italy as in Greece, which came in seventh, and seven times as many in the UK.
Whether Greece reverts to the drachma is an open question, but the other one is might a return to the drachma produce the potential for the return of a low-cost Greek cruise fleet, which would still qualify as a European flag if Greece remains within the EU.
Voyages to Antiquity’s 408-berth Aegean Odyssey
A few years ago, Louis Cruises registered a good part of its fleet under the Greek flag but, due to difficulties with the Greek seamen’s unions, soon transferred those same ships to Malta, the European flag now used by all four of the Celestyal fleet.
Although managed from Piraeus, Voyages to Antiquity’s 408-berth Aegean Odyssey is also registered in Malta, while Majestic International Cruises’ 535-berth Ocean Majesty is flagged in Madeira.
Malta is also the flag used by Celebrity Cruises, many of whose ships still have Greek captains and officers. Celebrity was of course founded in 1989 by the Chandris family but sold to Royal Caribbean Cruises in 1997.
From Piraeus, Global Cruise Lines manage Cruise & Maritime’s two owned ships, the 1,250-berth Magellan and 848-berth Marco Polo, both registered in the Bahamas, as well as the chartered 556-berth Azores, soon to be renamed Astoria, registered in Madeira.
A fourth ship, the recently-acquired 550-berth Astor, is still managed by Premicon in Munich.
The 1,250-berth Magellan
Whether entrepreneurs are still left to revive a Greek cruising fleet under the drachma as also an open question.
Many Greek owners have entered the ferry business in recent years, building many new ships for routes in the Aegean and the Adriatic ranging from Venice in the north through Crete in the south. But the ferry business has also seen its own trials.
The Attika Group, for one example, parent company of Blue Star Ferries and Superfast Ferries, was acquired in 1992 by the Panagopulos family. In the early 1970s, Pericles Panagopulos had founded Royal Cruise Line, which he sold to Norwegian Cruise Line in 1989.
Royal Cruise Line operated three popular and well-known Greek-flag and Greek-crewed cruise ships but Norwegian eventually closed down this operation. Panagopulos sold his interest in Attika Group in 2007 and is now active in bulk shipping through Magna Marine.
Ropax ferry Superfast VI, currently MS Bimini Superfast
Meanwhile, in recent times, in order to turn around losses, Attika has sold off some of its modern ferries. Two of these have found their way to North America, where Genting’s 32,728-ton Bimini Superfast now sails between Miami and Bimini in the Bahamas and Bay Ferries’ 10,193-ton Fundy Rose is due to enter service next month between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia.
As to the Chandris family, since the £170 million sale of its 51% of Celebrity Cruises in 1997, they are now invested in property in the UK and hotels in Greece, as well as operating a fleet of twenty-three tankers and bulk carriers under the name Chandris (Hellas) Inc.
The largest of these carry the names of former Chandris passenger ships such as Australis, Britanis, Ellinis and Patris. There is no sign however that they want back into the cruise business, which has changed enormously since the sale of Celebrity and the arrival of the 100,000-ton cruise ship just as they left the business.