Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis (1902-1973), was born in Sinasos, Cappadocia of Asia Minor and moved to Greece with his family in 1924, following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
After moving to Greece, the family initially lived in a refugee camp in Eleusis, Attica, before moving to Piraeus, where it worked for the Vagiannis family, which also came from Sinasos and was active in the water transportation business.
Some time later, Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis met Eleni Triantafyllidou, whose family had also immigrated from Sinasos. Vassilis and Eleni got married and moved in New Gallipoli, a neighbourhood of Piraeus. The couple had seven children; five daughters, Elena, Erato, Lula, Niki and Vasso and two sons, Apostolos and Gregory.
During the 1930s, which were marked by the adversities of the Great Depression, Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis worked hard to support his growing family. Shipping, which offered opportunities for ambitious and hardworking individuals, gave the chance to the young refugee to expand his business horizons. In late 1938, Hadjieleftheriadis, in partnership with his friend and neighbour Captain Lefteris Chirakis, acquired a 400-ton cargo vessel, built in 1883, that was renamed ASTREA. The vessel was originally built for the Greek family Varvakis from Rostov, Russia and was subsequently sold to other Greeks. However, the ASTREA didn’t prove to be a lucky ship, as on December 21, 1939 she got stranded in the Black Sea, while travelling in ballast from Constanța to Piraeus and was declared a total loss.
The post-war years was a difficult time for Greeks, after the country’s involvement in World War II and the subsequent civil war. At the time, the Hadjieleftheriadis family was attempting its financial and professional reorganisation in a devastated city. During these challenging times, a seafaring career was one of the few viable solutions for many Greeks including four of Eletson’s founders, namely Apostolos and Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis, John Karastamatis and Erric Kertsikoff. When the company was later established in 1966 two other members of the family joined the company. Evangelos Korialos, the husband of Elena V. Hadjieleftheriadis, was involved with the company’s financial department until 1981, while Stelios Andreoulakis, the husband of Vasso V. Hadjieleftheriadis, became active at the company’s operations and insurance departments and was later appointed as the company’s Chief Operating Officer until his retirement.
The family’s eldest son, Apostolos V. Hadjieleftheriadis (1932-2001), started his maritime career in 1948 onboard small boats, while still a student at the St. Paul Greek-French School. Following his graduation in 1950, he completed his military duties from October 1954 until April 1957, serving as a Reserve Ensign on Hellenic Royal Navy ships. After his service, he continued his seafaring career by obtaining a Master Mariner’s diploma in 1963 and traveled onboard oceangoing vessels, particularly ones that were owned by the Eugene Eugenides group. Apostolos got married to Argyro Diamandidou and had three children, Vassilis, Kostis and Eleni.
The family’s younger son Gregory V. Hadjieleftheriadis, born in 1938, followed his brother’s footsteps. After completing his secondary education, he studied for two years at the National Merchant Marine Academy of Hydra and subsequently completed his military service as a Reserve Ensign for the Royal Navy, before working onboard oceangoing vessels. After the establishment of the family business in 1966, he served for a few months onboard the family’s first vessel, taking up the captaincy from his brother in 1967. Following his first seafaring steps, Gregory moved to London for a few years in order to familiarise with the shipping industry and build a network of contacts. As part of his training, he worked in the evenings as a trainee at the N.J. Goulandris office and attended morning classes at the London School of Foreign Trade, gaining important knowledge about shipmanagement, maritime law, marine insurance and other aspects of the shipping business.
Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis not only managed the family business, but also served as an advisor to the Board of the Union of Greek Shipowners from 1982, while heading the Union’s Maritime Education division. Gregory and his wife Pamela Rochelle Ansel, had three children, Andreas, Danae and Alexandros. He served as Eletson’s vice president until 1997, when he was elected chairman and CEO, a post that he kept until his departure from the company in 2006.
Two other Greek masters, who joined the Hadjieleftheriadis family, complete Eletson’s founding team.
John E. Karastamatis (1925-2012) came from Apikia on the island of Andros and was the son of a poor family. After coming up through the ranks at the N.J. Goulandris group, he got married to Erato V. Hadjieleftheriadis in 1961. The couple had two daughters, Laskarina and Neni. His father, Epaminondas Karastamatis, emigrated to the United States in 1930, but returned a few years later, opening a small café in Andros. At the family establishment, John learned the value of hard work from an early age. After World War II, he served his military duties at the Royal Navy. Even though his plan was to study agronomy, he soon realised that a maritime career was the best option. Therefore, on October 12, 1949, Karastamatis enlisted as a deckhand onboard the ocean liner NEPTUNIA of the compatriot Goulandris brothers. However, his career in ocean liners did not last long. Two years later, he requested to get transferred on a Goulandris cargo ship. Karastamatis’ seafaring career was closely linked to the Goulandris family, particularly to the N.J. Goulandris group, since its establishment in 1953.
An important moment in John Karastamatis’ seafaring career was his first tanker voyage in 1956, onboard the newly-built MARIETTA as chief officer. Since then, he only travelled onboard tankers and in 1968 he was the first to serve as master onboard the newly-built NICHOLAS J. GOULANDRIS, which was the largest ship under the Greek flag at the time. In 1970, Karastamatis became chief of staff at the Neorion shipyard on the island of Syros, after the yard was taken over by the N.J. Goulandris group, contributing to its transformation into a modern repair facility. Three years later, he decided to resign from his post and focus exclusively on Eletson’s operations, serving as the group’s president until 1997.
Finally, Erric Kertsikoff (1928-2003) was born in Piraeus. His father, Boris Kertsikoff, was an officer of the Imperial Russian Army, who had escaped after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and had moved to Greece. His mother Irina was a refugee from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Kertsikoff family had a difficult time during the 1930s, while Erric spent his adolescence under the shadow of German-occupied Greece.
After World War II, Erric Kertsikoff enrolled at the National Merchant Marine Academy of Hydra – which at the time operated in Piraeus – and then embarked on a seafaring career as a cadet. In 1963, he met his wife Lula V. Hadjieleftheriadis. The couple got married that year and had three children, Vassilis, Kostis and Irina. Erric travelled in total for 20 years – 11 onboard vessels of the Onassis group – while in 1969 he took over the captaincy of Eletson’s first tanker.
Throughout the rest of his career, Kertsikoff promoted maritime education and showed a keen interest towards seafarers’ matters. He served as advisor to the Board of the Union of Greek Shipowners until his passing in 2003, as well as INTERTANKO vice president from 1997 and was the driving force behind the establishment of the association’s Greek forum of which he was president.
ESTABLISHING A FLEET
The first post-war vessel acquisition by the Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis family took place in 1966. The shipping market was by then on the road to recovery following the slump of the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The family’s younger generation – Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis, Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis, John Karastamatis and Erric Kertsikoff – were at the time serving onboard ships of well-known Greek shipping groups, while the family’s head, Vassilis, was working for the tanker management company El-Pa Maritime.
As in the case of several seafaring families, who managed to evolve over the years into major players in international shipping, the Hadjieleftheriadis family was determined to enter shipowning, working hard to accomplish its goal.
The family’s shipowning debut was far from easy. The money that had been jointly put aside was limited – around 50 thousand US dollars – while their partner, Stavros Tsonis, who had commercial experience outside shipping, would invest a similar amount. The acquisition candidate was a 1936, Danish-built small diesel engine reefer of about 2,500 tons that was laid up in Denmark. The inspection was undertaken by the family’s most experienced seaman, Captain Karastamatis, who gave the green light for the acquisition of the vessel, which was renamed MARIA T. and was placed under the Greek flag. Its first voyage was carrying livestock from Turkey to Greece. The captaincy of Eletson’s first ship, as well as the monitoring of her repairs and modifications, were undertaken by Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis, who had by that time gained significant experience onboard cargo vessels. The acquisition of the MARIA T. led to the establishment of a small management office in downtown Piraeus, which was headed by Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis, as his sons and sons-in-law were still travelling to support their families.
The operation of the cargo vessel, whose captaincy was undertaken after Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis by his younger brother, Gregory, proved successful. Therefore, in June 1968 a ship of similar capacity was added to the fleet. The vessel, which was renamed ELENI T., was built in 1946 in Sweden and was also placed under the Greek flag. This was the last dry cargo vessel acquisition by the family, as from the following year the group focused entirely on the tanker market – with the exception of a bulk carrier acquired in 1977, which remained, however, part of the Eletson fleet for only one year.
In 1969, Eletson acquired its first tanker, a 1952, Swedish-built vessel, part of the fleet of the renowned Ugland Group of Norway. The 15,900-dwt vessel, was delivered to her new owners in September 1969. She was renamed EVI T. and as the other Eletson vessels, was placed under the Greek flag, with Erric Kertsikoff becoming its first master. The following year, a similar vessel, renamed STAVROS T., joined the fleet and was also placed under the Greek flag.
The 1970s marked Eletson’s rapid growth and the active presence of the family’s four masters at its offices, following Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis’ passing in 1973. Having gained extensive experience in the tanker sector by working for two leading Greek shipping groups, Onassis and N.J. Goulandris, Vassilis Hadjieleftheriadis’ sons-in-law contributed decisively in the laying of solid foundations, as far as safety and the protection of the marine environment are concerned.
The sale in 1972 and in 1973 of the two small cargo vessels that had marked the family’s entry into shipowning, as well as the acquisition of four Swedish-built tankers, younger and larger than Eletson’s other tankers, enhanced the group’s status. The Hadjieleftheriadis brothers and their brothers-in-law, working hard as a team, managed to establish Eletson as one of the most dynamic Greek shipping groups, despite fluctuations in the tanker market due to two major oil crises.
By 1975, the company had expanded its fleet through the acquisition of three more tankers and decided to make its first newbuilding move by placing an order for two 30,000-dwt tankers at the Nakskov shipyard in Denmark. The vessels were meant to be delivered as the PIRAEUS SEA and the PIRAEUS SKY, however, due to disagreements that arose during construction, the two vessels were delivered in 1976 to the East Asiatic group of Denmark. The cancellation of the project did not affect Eletson’s growth, as later that year, Eletson added to its fleet six more high-specification second-hand tankers that were on average 15 years old.
Managing a fleet of about 20 units, the four masters decided that despite the market downturn, it was time to renew the fleet. They sold the older vessels for scrap, while acquiring seven 30,000-dwt product tankers, built between 1969 and 1973 in Japan for the Karageorgis group. Following their delivery, which took place between 1982 and 1983, the company placed an order for the construction of five 29,900-dwt product tankers at the Kanda shipyard in Japan, for 72.5 million US dollars, which at the time was a bargain price. The company’s rapid growth led to the establishment of a representative office in London under the name Eletson Maritime Ltd.
The first of the newly-ordered vessels was delivered in January 1986. During the time, Eletson’s US office in Connecticut started its operations under the name Eletson Maritime Inc. Later that year, taking advantage of the very attractive prices, the company placed an order for the construction of four 46,000-dwt tankers, this time at Korea Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation, for 16.2 million US dollars per vessel. The ships were delivered in 1989 and in 1990 and were the first tankers worldwide to be built with a double bottom and double sides. That was before the replacement of the world tanker fleet with double hull units, would be made compulsory, following the grounding of the VLCC EXXON VALDEZ and the resulting catastrophic oil spill.
The Eletson team was fast to foresee the implications of the EXXON VALDEZ incident and decided to replace its entire fleet with double bottom and double sided units. The group took advantage of a tempting 130 million US dollars offer from Russian buyers that were looking for vessels with prompt delivery, for the sale at a significant profit of its five single-hull tankers that had been built in 1986 and 1987. Following that move, Eletson placed an order at Hitachi, Japan, for the construction of four high-specification 45,425-dwt tankers that were delivered in 1991 and in 1992. Over the next few years, Eletson got delivery of six more product tankers from Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea and four from Zaliv in Ukraine. Half of the HHI order was for 46,700 dwt units and the rest for 66,985 dwt units, while all Zaliv-built tankers were of a 68,232 dwt capacity. In 1996, the company sold its last single-hull tanker.
Driven by their desire to operate a well maintained fleet of high-specification tankers, the Eletson founding team established in 1977 a facility in Perama, Greece, in order to carry out repairs and maintenance works at the groups vessels. This effort was intensified in 1990 with the acquisition of the Chandris shipyard in Salamis and its merger with Eletson’s ship repair facilities. The new venture operated under the name Naftilos Shipyards.
In 1993, Eletson was the first European company that in cooperation with Citibank, succeeded in penetrating the US investment market, achieving its financing with a 140 million US dollar ten-year bond, which was repaid two years before maturity.
In May 1994, Eletson signed a preliminary agreement with US shipyard Newport News for the construction of four 46,000-dwt tankers. This was a landmark order for the US shipbuilding industry, being the first foreign order for commercial vessels in 40 years. However, the ships were never delivered to the Eletson Group due to significant delays during construction and were eventually acquired by oil company Mobil in 1997.
Following a three-year pause, the group acquired two 76,020-dwt resale tankers under construction at Halla in South Korea. The PELAGOS and the ANGISTRI, as the vessels were named, were delivered in 1999 and in 2000 respectively and were placed under the Greek flag. In May 2000, Eletson placed another order at Hyundai Heavy Industries for its first newly-built aframax product tankers, while the following year, just after the loss of one of its founders, Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis, another order at HHI was placed for two sister vessels. The four coated aframax tankers were delivered in 2002 and in 2004 respectively, while another two 70,000-dwt HHI-built vessels that had also been ordered in 2001, the ERIKOUSSA and the SKOPELOS, were delivered in 2003 and were both placed under the Greek flag.
Around that time, Eletson sponsored the reconstruction of a municipal park located opposite its Piraeus offices, in memory of Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis.
On February 6th 2003, another Eletson founder, Erric Kertsikoff, passed away at the age of 75.
Three years later, in 2006, Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis stepped down as Eletson president, a post he held since 1997, selling his shares to other family members. Later that year, the group, led by Captain John Karastamatis, but with the strong presence of the family’s third generation, represented by Vassilis and Kostis Kertsikoff, Laskarina Karastamatis and Vassilis A. Hadjieleftheriadis, continued investing in newbuildings, by placing an order at Hyundai Mipo for the construction of four 52,000-dwt MR2 product carriers.
Moreover, 2006 marked Eletson’s entrance in the LPG sector, with an order for four 35,000-cbm units at Hyundai Mipo. The following year, after the sale of some ships built in the 1990s, the company acquired from LMZ Transoil four panamax tankers, built between 2004 and 2006 at Daewoo’s shipyards in South Korea and Romania.
The passing of John Karastamatis in 2012 marked the end of an era for a company, which starting from scratch in 1966, managed during four decades to evolve into a leading product tanker manager and operator with vessels that were always placed under the Greek flag.
Eletson’s third generation continues to expand the group’s operations. In 2013, a strategic alliance with the American investment group Blackstone was formed. The two parties formed Eletson Gas, in order to serve the niche market of gas transportation (LPG), complementing the group’s core business.
In 2016, Eletson celebrated its 50th anniversary. On the occasion of this milestone, a representative of the family’s third generation explained:
“At Eletson we strive to combine traditional values with innovation and new ideas that are constantly emerging within the sector. We have proved this several times, being pioneers and innovators. At the same time, the company is managed by individuals, who are experts in their fields, with respect to rules and organisational structure.
The love for the sea, the knowledge of the ship, the respect for the environment, the customer and the partner, as well as honesty and consistency in transactions. We believe that these are timeless values and will help deal with current challenges, they should therefore remain the cornerstone of Greek shipping”.