The current Express Athina was completed in 1973 as the Belgian Marine (RMT)'s Prins Philippe, and operated between Dover and Oostende from then until premature sale in 1986. This sale was to Moby Lines of Italy as the Moby Love, with whom she stayed until becoming Ventouris Sea Lines' Panagia Tinou 2 in 1993. The sudden end of Ventouris operations saw a period of lay-up, but like fleetmate Apollo Express 1 the ship was acquired by the expanding Agapitos Express Ferries for service as the Express Athina. Agapitos Express formed the basis for the new Hellas Ferries operation, which came into existence in late 1999 and the 'Athina' was a key unit. For the 2005 summer, the ship was switched to operate full-time out of Rafina down to Mykonos (having previously been mostly Piraeus-based); at the same time, Hellas Ferries became Hellenic Seaways and the ship received the company's new blue hull colours.

Out of Rafina, the 'Athina' sailed in competition to her later sister, Prince Laurent (as Strintzis/Blue Star Ferries' Superferry II). The different ways the two ships were converted after coming to Greece made for an interesting comparison, the Express Athina being rather more recognisable than the Superferry II which has received a new bow, funnel, aft superstructure and forward covered decks.

In early 2007, the ship was sold to SAOS Ferries for further operation in the Northern Aegean islands and renamed
Express Limnos.
PRINS PHILIPPE
Sealink/RMT
ABOVE: Express Athina at Piraeus in April 2001. Comparison to the top picture of her as Prins Philippe reveals that much of the previously open superstructure has been plated in since leaving Oostende, most noticeably her promenade deck which has caused the lifeboats to be re-sited a deck higher. Curiously (and probably uniquely!), these changes have given the ship perhaps a rather neater overall profile than she had as Prins Philippe, albeit now a little built-up at the stern.
BELOW: Express Athina seen in May 2004 and looking in superb condition at the start of another Summer season. (Picture courtesy David Baker)
BELOW: Express Athina at Syros in July 2004. The ship's additional stacked-up stern superstructure is evident. (Picture matt@hhvferry.com)
TOP: An official RMT postcard view of Prins Philippe revealing her sturdy, solid lines. Although not 'ugly' as such, the ship was certainly rather different in appearance to the beautiful 'Ostenders' she joined in the RMT fleet (including the car ferries). This however was as it had to be: although Prins Philippe is often criticised for her fixed mezzanine decks (which restricted her ability to carry large amounts of freight and which her sister did not have), she certainly represented a huge practical step forward from the externally wonderful but operationally impractical car ferries that the Belgians had been building as recently as the Princesse Astrid of 1968 (not to mention the passenger-only Prinses Paola of 1966.)
RMT had been busy constructing a large fleet of beautiful ships for a trade that was quickly being overtaken by the decline of classic passengers and the rise of ro-ro;
Prins Philippe can therefore be seen as the line's first true, modern car ferry, as opposed to a passenger ship with a car deck. Although certainly her younger sister Prince Laurent appears to have been the more successful ship whilst at Oostende, the very fact that the 'Philippe' was such an advance on the Princesse Astrid and her half-sisters has to be recognised.

The above view demonstrates the livery modifications the ship brought to the Oostende fleet. RMT had joined the Sealink consortium of nationalised shipping operators of Britain, France and the Netherlands in 1970 but
Prins Philippe was the first local ship to receive the 'Sealink' name on the company black hull. Another innovation was the 'RMT' monogram on the funnel. The 'Philippe' actually entered service with the hull paint a deck higher (in line with the application of BR blue to British Sealink ships), with 'Sealink' in commensurately larger letters; after her first season though the paint was lowered.
BELOW: A picture of the brand new Prins Philippe from 1973 showing her short-lived original Sealink livery with the black hull paint one deck higher than was later applied.
ABOVE: As Ventouris Sea Line's Panagia Tinou 2 at Syros. It was rumoured that the demise of VSL was connected to the expense involved in the extensive conversion of the ship, which had not been significantly altered structurally by Moby since her English Channel days.
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e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
BELOW: Express Athina arriving at Andros on July 23 2005 in the new Hellenic Seaways colours. (Picture matt@hhvferry.com)
BELOW: Express Athina and Superferry II together at Rafina in July 2005 with the former Belgian sister ships running in direct competition to one another on the route down to Mykonos. (Picture matt@hhvferry.com)