ANEX Tour, one of Turkey’s largest tour operators, is diving into the cruise sector with the purchase of the oldest cruiseship in the fleet of UK-based Saga Cruises.

Both companies revealed yesterday that a deal has been struck to sell the 37,000-gt cruiseship Saga Sapphire (built 1981) to ANEX, who will take delivery of the ship in mid 2020. No pricing details were disclosed.

ANEX will deploy the 720-berth ship out of the Turkish port of Antalya, operating it on cruises to the Aegean islands and other ports in the eastern Mediterranean.

Established in 1996, ANEX describes itself as one of the largest tour operators in central and eastern Europe, with operations in 48 countries and catering to over four million customers annually.

"With changing habits of travellers, we must adopt our product offering accordingly. By acquiring Saga Sapphire, we will be able to create a unique eastern Mediterranean cruise experience for our valued guests," said Neset Kockar, the company’s chairman, in a prepared media statement.

ANEX becomes the second Turkish tour operator to enter the cruise sector behind ETSTUR, which for the past decade has operated seasonal cruises using chartered ships.

Saga Cruises is replacing the Saga Sapphire with the 58,200-gt newbuilding Spirit of Adventure, which is due to enter service in August 2020.

Earlier this year Saga Travel chief executive Robin Shaw told TradeWinds that the company preferred to sell the ship for further trading rather than for recycling.

The ship ANEX has just purchase comes with a prestigious pedigree. Built at Bremer Vulkan as Hapag Lloyd’s Europa, it was for two decades regarded as being the most luxurious ship afloat.

Saga purchased the ship off Spain’s Pullmantur in 2012, giving it a substantial refit that once again put it amongst the ranks or the more highly rated cruiseships.