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ATALANTE arriving at the tiny island of Simi towards the end of her long career. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2003.


Paradise Cruises' ATALANTE was a fascinating and endearing ship. When built in 1953 as Messageries Maritimes' MV TAHITIEN for the Marseilles to French Polynesia run, she was one of many intermediate combiliners plying the sea lanes. Modest in most every respect save for some stunning paintings by noted French artists like Leo Fontan, her builders would probably have laughed if it were suggested she would survive for over fifty years in active service.

TAHITIEN carried 71 first, 84 tourist, and 142 third class passengers as well as 76 (usually soldiers) in steerage dormitory class. Since she only had air conditioning in her dining salons, most of her public rooms opened up onto expansive promenades. Typical of the French liners of her era, she had lustrous, dark woodwork and deco-inspired furniture and fixtures.

When containerization of cargo and the jet liner joined forces to kill off the combiliner, TAHITIEN was sold to the Greeks, who were skilled at converting unwanted ships into hard-working cruise vessels and ferries in the burgeoning Mediterranean. TAHITIEN was purchased by Mediterranean Sun Lines in 1972 and transformed into the 659 passenger one class ATALANTE. Her cargo holds were filled with cabin accommodation and a large car deck, although much of her original French architecture and decor was left unaltered.

She was given several refits during her long career and in 1991, she spent a year under the Epirotiki Lines banner as HOMERICUS to replace their OCEANOS (another former French combiliner -- JEAN LABORDE) which sank off South Africa. In 1992, she was renamed ATALANTE once again and laid up. Later that year, she was purchased by Paradise Cruises of Cyprus who sent her to Perama for a significant rebuilding. During that time, superstructure extensions were added and she was given more accommodation and a large showlounge. Some of her French fixtures and paneling were lost in the process, but this last facelift gave the old lady another ten successful years of service. ATALANTE was a very popular ship all the way to the end, largely due to the efforts of her Cypriot owners who kept life on board like a low key bed and breakfast. Other ships in the region were more well equipped and luxurious, but ATALANTE had a heart and soul.

Time finally caught up with her as scrap prices skyrocketed in the summer of 2004. Still in good condition and her reputation intact, ATALANTE motored off to Alang at the end of her cruise season and was finished off by the Spring of 2005.

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