MS Salamis Filoxenia is a cruise ship owned by the Cyprus-based Salamis Cruises She was built in 1975 by Wärtsilä Turku Shipyard as the Belorussiya class–cruiseferry Gruziya for the Black Sea Shipping Company, Soviet Union. She was rebuilt into a cruise ship during the 1980s. In 1995 she was renamed Odessa Sky and in 1999 briefly Club 1 before renamed Van Gogh later in 1999. In 2009 she was acquired by her current owner and renamed Salamis Filoxenia.
Concept and construction
The Gruziya was one of five cruiseferries built between 1975 and 1976 for the Black Sea Shipping Company for intra-Soviet Union service on the Black Sea. The ships were built to the same standards of technology and passenger accommodation as cruiseferries built outside the Eastern Bloc at the time. As built she was able to accommodate 1009 passengers (504 with cabin berths) and 256 cars. In practice her passenger capacity was excessive in comparison with her car capacity, but her relatively high standard of accommodation made her popular as a cruise ship, and during the 1980s she was rebuilt as a cruise ship. The precise year of her rebuildings is unknown, with different sources stating either 1984 or 1988 as the year of the refit.
After she was delivered to the Black Sea Shipping Company, the Gruziya was used on ferry service between the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus, as well as cruising. For cruise service she was often chartered to operators outside the Eastern Block, but she did also make cruises aimed at Soviet passengers. Following the conversion into a cruise ship she was (naturally) used exclusively for cruising. ]
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Black Sea Shipping Company came to be based in the newly independent state of Ukraine, and the Gruziya hoisted the Ukrainian flag. In 1995 she was transferred under the ownership of Blasco UK, re-registered to Liberia and renamed Odessa Sky. On 26 August 1995 the vessel was arrested in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and remained there for several months. In August 1996 she was re-registered to Odessa. On 11 September 1996 the ship arrived in Wilhelmshaven, Germany for an engine overhaul. Blasco could not pay for the overhaul, and as a result the Odessa Sky was arrested in Wilhelmshaven. Her crew remained on board, unpaid.
In August 1998 the Odessa Sky was sold in an auction to the Dutch businessman Gerard van Leest for 16.5 million Deutsche Mark. The crew of the ship however refused to leave the ship unless they were paid the two years worth of salaries Blasco owed them, and even threatened to sink the ship should their demands not be met. A settlement was eventually reached where the crew were given flight tickets home and even money for new clothes, and the Odessa Sky could proceed to Bremerhaven for rebuilding for her new service.
On 27 March 1999 the Odessa Sky was renamed Club I and re-registered to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. From April 1999 onwards she made short cruises out of Rotterdam under the banner of Club Cruise. The Club 1 failed to find popularity in The Netherlands, and as a result the planned winter program was cancelled and the ship was laid up in September 1999. In December 1999 Nouvelles Frontieres, a France based group, chartered the Club 1 and renamed her Van Gogh for cruises around the Mediterranean and Caribbean. In 2002 she was chartered to the United Kingdom-based Travelscope.
On September 26, 2004 the Van Gogh, while outbound from Gibraltar to Tangier, collided with the tanker Spetses outside Gibraltar in heavy fog. The Van Gogh received heavy damage to her bow, but there were no injuries on either ship and the Van Gogh could return to Gibraltar for repairs under her own power. Later investigations revealed the Van Gogh had been traveling at 14 kn (25.93 km/h), a speed considered unsafe under the weather conditions. Additionally the crew of the Van Gogh had neglected to give proper audio signals for restricted visibility and the crews of both vessels had neglected to keep proper radar watch. No emergency signal had been sounded on the Van Gogh before or after the accident, resulting in confusion amongst her passengers.
Traveloscope went bankrupt in December 2007, but Club Cruise took over the ship’s planned 2008 world cruise. In January 2008, Club Cruise established a new subsidiary, Van Gogh Cruises, which took over all existing bookings for the Van Gogh and planned to continue to operate her in the UK market. Due to difficulties in acquiring a membership in the Association of British Travel Agents, Van Gogh Cruises were forced to suspend operations in April 2008. As a result, the Van Gogh was chartered to the Russia-based Metropolis Tur for the 2008 northern hemisphere summer season.
During the final leg of her 2007/2008 world cruise, the Van Gogh was arrested by police in Funchal, Madeira on 1 April 2008, in a dispute over an unpaid debt from a previous operator. She was allowed to depart Funchal for Falmouth after some 48 hours on 3 April.
In July 2009, following the bankruptcy of Club Cruise, Van Gogh was sold in an auction at Eleusis, Greece to the Cyprus-based Salamis Cruises for $ 6.5 million. Van Gogh replaced the MS Salamis Glory on short cruises out of Limassol.