A portrait of Erric Kertsikoff

Eletson Corporation became one of the world’s most admired tanker companies under the leadership of four ship’s masters including Erric Kertsikoff and his brothers-in-law Apostolos Hadjieleftheriadis and John Karastamatis, 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.

Athens-born Erric Kertsikoff was often seen as a paradigm of the dignified Greek merchant marine captain, but he was also proud of his eastern European ancestry.

His father was an officer of the Imperial Russian army who escaped the 1917 Russian Revolution and came to Greece. His mother was also a refugee, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After the struggle of the war years in Greece, he joined the Merchant Marine Academy of Hydra and began a career at sea as a cadet in 1948. He began working on board without pay but worked his way up to a qualified ship’s master. He spent more than half his 20-year seagoing career on the Onassis fleet.

In 1961, Kertsikoff was the first Greek to captain a refrigerated vessel. He also became the master of Eletson’s first tanker, the 15,900 dwt Evi T, purchased in 1969.

All four Eletson partners distinguished themselves as merchant marine officers and pooled their combined savings of about $50,000 in order to start their own shipping venture. All of them, including Kertsikoff, continued their seagoing careers for a while even after Eletson was formed.

That was accomplished in 1966, when they purchased a first vessel, a 30 year-old combination carrier of 2,500 tons, that was put under Greek flag and renamed Maria T.

While the early years of Eletson saw Kertsikoff 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.

Kertsikoff was a personality who was widely respected throughout shipping and in particular the international tanker industry. He became a member of the executive committee of tanker owners’ body Intertanko in 1994 and became a vice president of the association in 1997. He was keenly involved in efforts to improve the industry’s public reputation.

He was the driving force behind the establishment of Intertanko’s Hellenic Forum, which he chaired for its first six years until he passed away in 2003. The forum continues to this day as the Hellenic Mediterranean Panel. He also served from 1997 to 2003 as a member of the board of the Union of Greek Shipowners.

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.