Former Tasmanian ferry Abel Tasman sets sail for demolition in Turkey

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.

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.

The Abel Tasman, pictured during her years of operation from 1985 to 1993.(Provided: heather rice)

This also marked the start of the TT-Line company operating ferry services across Bass Strait.

Promotional poster for the Abel Tasmania ferry.
A promotional poster for the Abel Tasman.(Supplied: Tasmania Ferries)

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.

Passenger space in an old ferry.
The Abel Tasman, built in 1975, began life as Nils Holgersson.(YouTube: Exploring the Undefeated Path)

“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!”

Freycinet room in the former Abel Tasman ferry.
Abel Tasman’s Freycinet room.(Tasmania Ferries)

accident prone

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.

Two members in an old ferry control room.
Crew members on board the old Abel Tasman ferry.(Tasmania Ferries)

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.

A ship that has crashed into a dock.
The Theofilos after touching the quay of Chios, in 1995.(Apostolos Kaknis Collection)

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.

Interior of what was once the Abel Tasman ferry.
The Abel Tasman was replaced by the original Spirit of Tasmania in 1993.(YouTube: Exploring the Undefeated Path)

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.

Two women enjoying a sauna.
Two female guests enjoying a sauna on board the Abel Tasman.(Tasmania Ferries)

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.”

Unused command deck of what was once the Abel Tasman ferry.
The Tasmanian government paid around $19 million for the Nils Holgersson in 1984, later renaming it Abel Tasman.(YouTube: Exploring the Undefeated Path)

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