Sunday, 29 June 2008

It never pays to hurry

Greeks can be very loud. Just like the Italians they talk loudy and very wildly. They're not quick to curse, but when they curse, you don't want to be near them. Like yesterday night I wouldn't like to have been on the bridge of the ferry Theofilos that sailed from Mytilini, Chios to Athens and hit a reef near the Oinousses archipelago. The cursing then was probably heard as far away as Lesvos.

The biggest island of the group of nine, Oinousses, is known for its rich shipping families. They more or less rule the island. The island is known as the richest in Greece and because they have enough money they're not keen on tourism. Besides some 1000 inhabitants Oinousses has a navigation school and a marine museum. There's a daily ferry from Chios to the island.

The people of Oinousses will have been wondering why exactly a ferry ran aground in front of their island, while no clouds were in the sky, so no storm or swell could push the ship off course (probably no captain from their navigation school!). Accompanied by a rescue team (helicopters, police and fishing boats), the Theofilos reached the island of Oinousses unassisted. There the 475 passengers in life-vests could board the rescue boats and get safely to shore.

The passengers were accommodated for a few hours in the navigation school of Oinousses, after which they were taken by small tourist boats to Chios to spend the night (Oinousses has only one hotel with 23 beds...).

Maybe it's a little early to talk about what caused the accident. On Saturday night there was no soccer on television, so the crew, and the captain, were probably not watching a match, which is what happened on 26 September 2000, when the ferry Samina Express hit a rocky islet close to Paros and sunk pretty quickly. During this catastrophe 82 of the 500 passengers died. The passengers of the Theofilos all survived without a scratch.

On Sunday on television it was alleged that the second captain thought about taking a quicker route... But I also heard through the grapevine that they did it in order to get the insurance money. The ship needed a face-lift (what trusting people the Greeks are!). This was also going through the grapevine when the cruise ship Sea Diamond hit a reef close to Santorini on the 6th of April 2007 and sank a while later (in this accident 2 passengers died). If it had been proved that they let the Sea Diamond sink, they wouldn't have got hold the 55 million euros insurance money. Later it was prooved that the boat hit the reef because their navigation maps were wrong.

After the disaster with the Samina Express in 2000 a list was published of ships that should have been taken out of ferry service or totally refitted. On this list was the Theofilos, as well as the Taxiarchis and the Mytilini from NEL Lines, who still carry on with their ferry services. I am wondering if they were refitted in the last 8 years...

The Theofilos was built at a shipyard in Rendsburg, Germany. In 1975 she was christened the Nils Holgerson and for the first 10 years she was a ferry between Travemunde (Germany) and Trelleborg (Sweden). Then she was renamed the Abel Tasman and became a ferry in Australia between Devonport (New Zealand) and Melbourne. In 1994 she began her Greek career as the Pollux and for 1 year she sailed between Igoumenitsa (Greece) and Bari (Italy). Then she was bought by a Lesvorian ship broker, she was renamed the Theofilos and she went to work for NEL Lines from Athens, Chios, Lesvos to Thessaloniki and back again. If this stupid navigational error, which left a tear in the ship of some 15 metres, means that it's the end of her career, is still not known. But the people of Lesvos will remember her. Most Greeks prefer to travel by boat and they liked the Theofilos. Seeing her sailing in and out of the harbour in Mytilini was a common sight.

Most of the stranded passengers of the Theofilos were quickly picked up by the Nissos Chios (a brand new ferry from 2007) and brought on to Athens. But many of them without luggage or their car...

It's not a good list of these boat accidents in Greece. But you should remember that there are hundreds of boats sailing between the 1400 islands of Greece. Last year when a group of tourists had to take the ferry to Athens because of a strike at the airport, most of them were very happy with the experience...

The following website gives an overview of all the ships that regularly sailed to Lesvos. It shows that over the centuries old ships were replaced by new ones, in order to keep life going on. Maybe the Theofilos will now be on the list of the ships of the past...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

1 comment:

  1. Actually, she was the Abel Tasman between Devonport AUSTRALIA and Melbourne AUSTRALIA. Tasmania is an island state of Australia and Devonport is one of Tasmanias major ports.