Once celebrated by thousands of Tasmanians when it arrived on our shores in 1985, the time has come for the old Abel Tasman ferry to make its final journey.
- The former Abel Tasman ferry, now named Theofilos, started its journey to Turkey from Greece to be demolished
- Once described as “the pride of Tasmania”, the ship sailed the Bass Strait between Devonport and Melbourne from 1985 to 1993.
- It was sold to Greek company Ventouris Ferries in 1994 and ceased trading in 2015
News outlets in Greece – where the ship has been moored since 2015 – reported that the ferry, now called Theofilos, is on its way to Turkey to be broken up for scrap.
When the TT Line’s new commercial ferry, the German-built Abel Tasman, arrived in Devonport, Tasmania in 1985, it was greeted as a hero.
“It was a huge leap forward from its predecessor,” said Mitchell Bruce, creator of the Ferries in Tasmania website.
The Abel Tasman replaced the Empress of Australia, which provided three crossings per fortnight between Tasmania and the mainland.
This also marked the start of the TT-Line company operating ferry services across Bass Strait.
The Abel Tasman has increased sailings to six weekly overnight crossings between Devonport and Melbourne, with passenger numbers exceeding expectations.
This vessel maintained service until 1993, when it was replaced by the much larger Spirit of Tasmania.
Once providing a link to the mainland for many Tasmanians and visitors or new residents, news of the ferry’s final journey has sparked nostalgia among readers of ABC Hobart’s Facebook page.
Tasmanian school trips, moving states, band tours and even a mid-term proposal – Tasmanians have shared with us their memories of the Abel Tasman at its peak.
“I played on board with my band Wild Pumpkins at Midnight in exchange for our tickets to Melbourne on our first continental tour in 1986…there was a lot of turnover, and we couldn’t stand playing the double bass!” said Michael Turner.
“We went back after being caught in Queensland when Ansett collapsed,” said Anne Mitchell.
“The boat was full of people sleeping everywhere – even on the floor in the main public area – there was not a square centimeter of space left!”
In 1990 the Tasmanian government announced that the Abel Tasman would be replaced by a larger ferry, Peter Pan, which was renamed The Spirit of Tasmania.
The Abel Tasman was then sold to a Greek shipping company called Ventouris Ferries in 1994, leaving Tasmania for the last time.
During the ship’s life in Greece, she was plagued with mechanical problems and service changes on the Greek island’s inland routes.
In 1995 the ship crashed in the Greek port of Chios after a mechanical failure caused it to enter the port at full speed, crushing a car and causing extensive damage.
In 2008, the ship struck a reef while operating between Piraeus and Chios, causing flood damage to parts of the ship.
When Mitchell Bruce learned that the Abel Tasman was leaving Greece to be broken up in Turkey, he had mixed feelings.
Mitchell said contacts in Greece told him there was hope the ship would be purchased and upgraded, but due to the cost that hope quickly faded.
The pinch of nostalgia
The Abel Tasman has not been in Tasmanian waters for over 30 years, but it is clear that the vessel’s mark on Tasmania was important.
A Tasmanian woman recalled sailing on the ship while she was in Greece in 2000, only realizing when she was on board.
Mitchell Bruce said that while the ship will no longer sail in European waters, it will forever be part of Tasmania’s rich maritime history.
“It was really considered something special.”