A portrait of Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis

Eletson Corporation became one of the world’s most admired tanker companies under the leadership of four ship’s masters including Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis and his brothers-in-law John Karastamatis and Erric Kertsikoff, all of whom have been inducted together into the Greek Shipping Hall of Fame.

Also greatly responsible for the company’s success was Apostolos’ younger brother Gregory Hadjieleftheriadis (born 1938), who is the last survivor among Eletson’s founders.

The Hadjieleftheriadis family moved to Greece from Cappadocia in Asia Minor after the 1924 population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

Ending up in Piraeus, father Vassilis G. Hadjieleftheriadis began to explore possibilities in shipping before Apostolos, his eldest son, was born.

The family survived the bombing of Piraeus and the German Occupation during the Second World War. Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis later wrote a memoir of his experiences as a young boy, which was published as A Piraeus Lad in the Years of Fire, 1940-1945.

He started working on small boats as a teenager while he was still a student at the St. Paul Greek-French School in Piraeus.

After graduation, he became a cadet officer and spent the next decade and a half serving on board Liberty ships and other cargo vessels, as well as completing his military service as a reserve ensign for the Hellenic Royal Navy. Much of his sea service was aboard Eugene Eugenides’ vessels. He obtained his master’s certificate in 1963.

All four distinguished themselves as merchant marine officers and pooled their combined savings of about $50,000 in order to start their own shipping venture.

When, in 1966, the family made its debut as shipowners by purchasing a 30 year-old combination carrier of 2,500 tons, it was Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis who supervised repairs and modifications. He was also the first captain of the vessel, that was put under Greek flag and renamed Maria T.

While the early years of Eletson saw Apostolos and his partners acquire various vessels, both dry cargo and tankers, by the early 1980s the company had decided to specialise in tankers and in particular product tankers.

Later that decade Eletson came to world attention by ordering the first-ever series of modern double-hull tankers – three years before the Exxon Valdez spill and the subsequent US Oil Pollution Act gave rise to the double-hull era.

Between 1989 and 1996 Eletson ordered another 24 product tanker newbuildings, including vessels with double decks and others incorporating a longitudinal bulkhead as well as double hull. By 1996 it had one of the first fleets comprising only double-hull tankers.

The co-founders insisted on the highest quality and an ‘industrial shipping’ culture for their company that differentiated it sharply from almost any other Greek shipping company of that era.

Eletson was among the first Greek shipowners to establish a proper holding company and corporate structure. It was a leader in computerisation, transparency and human resources, with all of the founder-directors remaining life-long contributors to maritime education.

In 1993 Eletson placed the very first high-yield bond issue for a European shipping company in the US public debt market. The $140 million in capital was 100% pre-paid to bondholders just eight years later.

Another trailblazing move that came the following year saw Eletson order four 46,000 ‘Double Eagle’-design tankers from Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. They would have been the first merchant ships built for a foreign owner by a US yard in 40 years, but due to construction delays they were never delivered to Eletson and were later acquired by Mobil Shipping and Transportation.

Despite the company’s innovations, a key ingredient in its culture and a unifying characteristic of the four partners were their experience of ships from their careers as masters and their consistent belief in the merits of Greek seafarers. The fleet was also Greek-flagged throughout and the vessels all bore the names of Greek islands.

In 2000-2001, the company contracted its first aframax product tankers as well as two panamax tankers, all with Hyundai Heavy Industries. The orders were the last it would place with all four of the founder-directors still at the helm.

At the time of his death aged 69, he was president of Eletson Holdings. The company regenerated a Piraeus municipal park in memory of Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis.

In recent years, Eletson has continued to be a high-quality operator of product tankers under the management of the second generation of the owning families. Since 2009, it has also been active in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carrier market.