Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2012 by Shawn Dake
Classic International Cruises Faces Uncertain Future
Shawn J. Dake
Classic International Cruises which counts five vintage passenger ships within it’s fleet, all built between 1948 and 1965, is navigating some seriously rough waters. Three of the five vessels have been arrested for debts, and future operations may be in jeopardy unless an announced restructuring of finances is agreed upon between the owners and the Montepio bank in Portugal. The bank had previously indicated that they would not fund any further operations and would not provide financing to see the line through to the end of the season.
Three of the ships have been arrested, one continues to sail under charter, and another remains laid up in Lisbon. The first sign of trouble came when the PRINCESS DANAE (ex PORT MELBOURNE, THERISOS EXPRESS, DANAE, ANAR, STARLIGHT PRINCESS, BALTICA) was detained in Dublin, Ireland on August 30th over an outstanding $94,000 fuel bill from 2011, but was allowed to sail after an agreement was reached. The ship was then arrested a second time in Marseille, France.
The ATHENA (ex STOCKHOLM, VOLKERFREUNDSCHAFT, VOLKER, FRIDTJOF NANSEN, ITALIA I, ITALIA PRIMA, VALTUR PRIMA, CARIBE) was also arrested at Marseille. The company claims it is there for a scheduled dry docking prior to resuming service on a traditional, 36-night line voyage departing November 12th from Marseille, followed by Rome to Perth, Australia.
Their smallest ship, the 320-passenger ARION (ex ISTRA, ASTRA, ASTRA I) was arrested at Kotor, Montenegro. All of the disputes appear to be for failure to pay mounting fuel bills, back wages to the crew and other debts. Passengers have been flown back to their home countries, but 550 members of the ship’s crew remain aboard while they await repatriation and payment of their salaries. Most of the crew are from Indonesia, the Ukraine and Portugal.
The 479-passenger PRINCESS DAPHNE (ex PORT SYDNEY, AKROTIRI EXPRESS, DAPHNE, SWITZERLAND, OCEAN ODYSSEY, OCEAN MONARCH) has so far managed to avoid being arrested. It is operating under a three-year charter agreement with Ambiente Kreuzfahrten which began in April, 2012. The ship is a sister to the PRINCESS DANAE. Both were built in 1955 as refrigerated cargo ships for the Port Line, before being converted into a cruise ships by Carras Cruises in 1975 and 1976. The PRINCESS DAPHNE has recently been operating a series of cruises to the Canary Islands and along the south coast of Spain. She is scheduled to begin a Black Sea cruise from Istanbul on October 6th. Since the ship has so far been exempt from the problems facing the other Classic International ships an agreement may be in place allowing her to continue the long-term charter.
The fifth ship in the fleet, the 9,563 gross ton FUNCHAL has not sailed since 2010. The 1961-vintage ship was being rebuilt meet SOLAS standards and the work has continually been delayed, which may have been an early sign of financial difficulties. The SOLAS conversion work is reportedly only 20% complete. This attractive liner has always sailed for the Portuguese and is one of the very few ships to retain her original name throughout her long career.
Classic International Cruises, goes by several other names including management by the Arcalia Shipping Company Ltd., and World Cruises Agency, Lisbon. The company was founded by George Potamianos, who passed away on May 29th of this year. Mr. Potamianos had been involved with cruising in Portugal since 1976, first with charters and later with his purchase of the FUNCHAL in 1985. He was a cousin of the Greek-based founding family of Epirotiki Cruises and got his start in the cruise industry with that company in the early 1970’s. His sons Alexandros and Emilios Potamianos have succeeded their father in running the company since his passing.
It is very hard to say what the future will hold for Classic International Cruises and their, old, small and very traditionally operated ships. Their founder loved this type of ship with their decades of history and more intimate atmospheres, which is a primary reason that they have survived for this long. It is highly unlikely that another operator would consider ships of this size and vintage even considering they are SOLAS compliant. On the exterior, with the exception of the FUNCHAL, all of these ships have been radically rebuilt, and their interiors modernized to meet today’s standards of comfort. Other operators of modest-size vintage ships are either looking for more modern hardware or are having financial difficulties themselves which would preclude expansion plans at this time. The Classic International Cruises website is still active and makes no mention of the arrests of three units of their fleet. A spokesman for the company branch office in Australia, Managing Director Grant Hunter, stated that “Athena’s ship owners and the bank are working on a major restructure that will be finalized within 5-7 days. The owners have advised that Athena will operate her full Australian season, as planned, beginning on November 12, 2012, in two months time. The ship has now entered a scheduled drydocking period in Marseille.” While the Australian office would primarily be concerned with the ATHENA which is scheduled to operate it’s longest season of cruises ever in the Southern hemisphere, no mention was made of the other ships or their current status. Ambiente Kreuzfahrten has charters scheduled for summer 2013 on both the PRINCESS DAPHNE and the ATHENA but whether these, or any, future cruises take place will largely depend on what financial arrangements can be completed in the next few weeks.
Here is a brief look at the ships that comprise the Classic International Cruises fleet:
ATHENA 1948 16,144 tons 525’ x 69’ feet 552 passengers. Former Names: STOCKHOLM, VOLKERFREUNDSCHAFT, VOLKER, FRIDTJOF NANSEN, ITALIA I, ITALIA PRIMA, VALTUR PRIMA, CARIBE. Note: The oldest ocean-going cruise ship in operation, originally constructed as a trans-Atlantic liner for the Swedish American Line. Sold to Italian operators in 1989. The ship was completely rebuilt at a reported cost of $150 million in1994.
PRINCESS DAPHNE 1955 15,833 tons 533’ x 70’ 479 passengers. Former Names: PORT SYDNEY, AKROTIRI EXPRESS, DAPHNE, SWITZERLAND, OCEAN ODYSSEY, OCEAN MONARCH. Note: Rebuilt from a Port Line refrigerated cargo ship into a cruise ship by Carras Cruises in 1975. Currently operating under a three-year charter agreement with Ambiente Kreuzfahrten from April, 2012.
PRINCESS DANAE 1955 16,531 tons 532’ x 70’ 568 passengers. Former Names: PORT MELBOURNE. THERISOS EXPRESS, DANAE, ANAR, STARLIGHT PRINCESS, BALTICA. Note: Rebuilt from a Port Line refrigerated cargo ship into a cruise ship by Carras Cruises in 1976. Nearly destroyed by fire in 1991, the ship was completely refurbished with much of the interior rebuilt.
FUNCHAL 1961 9,563 tons 507’ x 63’ 471 passengers.
ARION 1965 5,888 387’ x 54’ 320 passengers. Former Names: ISTRA, ASTRA, ASTRA I. Note: Originally built as one of a pair of ships for the former Yugoslavian State Shipping Company, Jadrolinija. Purchased by Arcalia Shipping in 1999 and completely rebuilt in 2000.