The Moonta becomes Lydia: The Greek period (1955-1966)

After 24 years of good and loyal services within the Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd, the Moonta was put up for sale by the Australian company.

At first used as a ferry to replace the Taroona, she was bought by a Greek shipowner, Hellenic Mediterranean Lines (ELMES). ELMES took possession of the vessel in Melbourne on December 21, 1955 and the ship was renamed Lydia, after an ancient Greek province. This mythical province crossed by the Pactolus river and over which the famous Croesus reigned. A name predestined to ensure the good fortune of the newly acquired ship.

The ship then set sail for Piraeus, her new home port. In Adelaide, the Lydia took on board a Greek crew who had to familiarize themselves with the ship.

C'est déjà bien le Lydia et plus le Moonta- regardez bien les couleurs en haut du mât arrière !
Nikos Kavvadias (Νίκος Καββαδίας) à bord du Lydia

Among the men on board, the famous Greek marine writer Nikos Kavvadias (Νίκος Καββαδίας) known in particular for his very dark novel “Vardia” (The Quarter) published the year before.

The journey to Greece is made via the Coco Islands and the Suez Canal. On arrival, the ship leaves for a detailed inspection. The ship was in exceptional condition, at the level of Anglo-Saxon naval rigor!


According to a Greek newspaper of the time, the new owner was even delighted by the exceptional condition of the newly acquired ship, judging her to be “of a high level of cleanliness, almost exaggerated”.

The ship thus crossed half the globe again to reach the waters of the Mediterranean, which she had visited for the first time 24 years earlier.


Upon arrival in Greece, she passed through the Piraeus shipyards where she underwent some transformations to adapt it to her new destination: a navigation through the Mediterranean.


The capacity was doubled from 157 to 280 passengers, and four additional boats were installed, bringing the total number of lifeboats to eight.


Her aft deck was also modified to accommodate, instead of the former deck tennis area, a small dock with additional crew cabins and a sick bay.

The ship is divided into three classes: 51 passengers in first class, 106 for the “tourist” class and finally 123 in third class who are crammed into a large bunk bed dormitory located on the B deck above the forward holds.

It is also planned that the ship can carry 180 additional “embarkers” in “open air” on the front deck, and this only for short crossings. There is no indication that this possibility was never really used… It is hard to imagine the Lydia loaded to the brim with 460 passengers.

Publicity HML
Promenade deck

                                             Publicity of the Hellenic Mediterranean Line (ELMES)

In the spring of 1956, she finally returned to service on the Piraeus/Venice/Brindisi/Alexandria route, but very quickly she was assigned to another route linking Marseilles to Beirut, with stops in Genoa, Naples, Piraeus, Alexandria and Limassol (Cyprus).


On the return journey, she added a stopover in Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal. 

As soon as she entered service, the Lydia was caught up in the turmoil of history because, in 1956, following the privatization of the Suez Canal, she would initially embark the families of Europeans who worked for the Canal Company.

The end of a golden age for these expatriates who found their way back to the metropolis.

Very soon after, it was the turn of the Egyptian Jews whom Nasser had designated as Personna non grata following the war against the state of Israel and the Franco-British operation in Suez. After these events, the Lydia returned to the tranquility of her journey around the Mare Nostrum without any notable incident.

In the early 1960′, the Lydia underwent a final refit. On this occasion, the ship received a new gray livery, a color more suited to the Mediterranean climate and commonly used in the Greek commercial navy. In addition, a windbreak was added to the front of the deck to make it more pleasant for the passagers.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the world was changing and the former first class and tourist class were merged into a single “uniclass”, more in line with the mentality of the time.

                                              Passager’s photos during the 1960′

This journey across the Mediterranean only lasted ten years and in December 1966, the Lydia returned to Piraeus after 35 years of service at sea, awaiting a buyer or more likely departure for the demolition yard…

…This is where the fabulous destiny of the ship that will become the “Paquebot des sables” (“Sand Liner”) will be played out…


The rest of her story : HERE

Olivier Alba

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