Just before I left Ireland to live in Australia in August 2000, I took a very welcome opportunity to travel to Greece with my good friend Russell Plummer (Ships Monthly, Cruise & Ferry Info). Our plan? To sail on the former St Columba, in service with Hellas Ferries.It was a quick visit, just three days, but it ranks as probably one of the most enjoyable I have yet to experience. An added bonus was a run to Paros in the Express Santorini and return in the Express Apollon, the former Chartres and Senlac respectively, but the highlight was of course the passage to Siros, Tinos and Mykonos in the Express Aphrodite.
First impression? She was still the Stena Hibernia! Throughout, she was largely unaltered since her final Holyhead years, apart from some obvious alterations around the stern, where new passenger access from the stern door up to her aft mooring deck now existed and more notably her aft wheelhouse had been removed. Another lasting impression was created by her Greek crew who were obviously very proud of their ship; the Express Aphrodite was absolutely spotless! The ship was in fine form and as was demonstrated when we caught and passed the former Hengist at sea, was running at just over 20 knots without so much as a hiccup!
Having operated in Greek waters since 1997, the Express Aphrodite was withdrawn at the end of the 2005 season and laid up at Drapetsona. There was a plan to install a large number of cabins for a longer crossing, but this was abandoned as the cost was too high and it was thought that she would not see service in 2006. Greek shipowner Mr Kostas Agapitos was said to be keen to purchase her for service in Greek waters, although that was thought unlikely being a competitor of the owners, Hellenic Seaways.
A crankshaft failure in the Express Santorini (ex-Chartres) in July 2006 caused much disruption to services on the Piraeus - Paros - Naxos - Ios - Santorini chain, but there was one bright side. When it became apparent that the Express Santorini would miss the busiest time of the year Hellas Ferries reactivated the Express Aphrodite and returned her to service in a smart new livery not dissimilar to her original British Rail scheme. The ship was first drydocked at Perama's floating dock before taking up the schedules to the Greek Islands.