Celestyal Cruises has acquired one of a clutch of cruise ships that Sea Jets ferry mogul Marios Iliopoulos bought at a bargain price at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Piraeus-based cruise operator confirmed to TradeWinds it has bought the 55,900-gt cruise ship Aegean Goddess (built 1994) for an undisclosed sum.

A statement provided by Celestyal quoted company chief executive Chris Theophilides as saying that while the pandemic put the company’s growth plans on pause, the positive industry outlook along with strong bookings for the coming 2023 cruise season, provides it with the opportunity to recommence the process of renewing its fleet with new vessels.

According to other cruise industry sources, Celestyal will invest around $20m in refurbishing the 1,266-passenger ship at the Piraeus ship repair zone. It is to be renamed Celestyal Journey before being put back into service.

Celestyal currently owns two cruise ships — the 37,800-gt, 1,575-passenger Celestyal Olympia (built 1982) and the 25,600-gt, 1,450-passenger Celestyal Crystal (built 1980) — that operate short and destination-intensive cruises to the Greek islands of the Aegean.

The company was owned entirely by Cyprus-based Louis Group until US private equity fund manager Searchlight Capital acquired a 60% stake in November 2021.

Theophilides said at the time that Searchlight’s infusion of capital would propel Celestyal’s growth strategy and accelerate its fleet renewal plan.

Iliopoulos, via Cypriot-registered single-ship companies, acquired no less than seven cruise ships in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic outbreak. Most came from Carnival Corp. The Aegean Goddess, built as the Ryndam for Holland America Line, had last operated under the name Pacific Aria for the cruise giant’s P&O Cruises Australia brand.

A couple of older cruise ships that Iliopoulos bought were quickly flipped at a profit in recycling deals.

The 55,600-gt Aegean Myth (built 1993), acquired as Maasdam for $10m, was sold in June 2022 to then new French cruise line CFC–Compagnie Francaise De Croisieres for a reported $30m.

Earlier in February, even though Iliopoulos was still sitting on several other cruise ships, he bought another vessel from Carnival Corp, the 102,700-gt Costa Magica (built 2004). With the Aegean Goddess sold, he now owns four cruise ships, all of which are in lay-up.

Although Iliopoulos has been busy buying and selling cruise ships, his attraction to older ferries has not diminished. In early February, he took delivery of the 19,800-gt ropax Color Viking (built 1993) from Norwegian ferry operator Color Line.

Seajets, which paid $8.46m for the ship, has renamed it SuperStar II and will refit it in Greece prior to placing it on its domestic ferry services in the Aegean.