Emigrant Liners and Cargo Ships
Achille Lauro was born on 16th June 1887 as the fifth of six children of shipowner Giaocchino Lauro and Laura Cafiero at Piano di Sorrento in the Sorrento peninsula at the southern end of the Bay of Naples. As a teenager, his father sent him on Transatlantic voyages of his sailing ships in order to remove him from unlikely romantic liaisons with young Neapolitan girls. His father was also a leading shareholder of the steamship company Societa Sorrento Penisola, established in 1902 to compete with the Societa Neapoletana Nave, the governmental concession for postal services with a monopoly of maritime services in the Gulf of Naples. Achille graduated from the Nino Bixio Naval School in Naples in 1906 at a time when his father’s businesses were going through a difficult period, with the Societa Sorrento Penisola having been placed in liquidation in 1905. Achille had also lost two elder brothers and two uncles at sea when their vessels had been sunk.
His father died when he was twenty three years of age in 1910, and he inherited a small fleet of three sailing ships and a very large debt. The three masted sailing ships included Mario 1,324/81 and Laura 1,291/77, both built on the Clyde as Carleton and Brenda respectively on dimensions of length 230.0 feet by moulded beam of 37.5 feet and depth of 23.0 feet. He traded these small sailing ships astutely, as his father had left him in sole charge of his family consisting of his mother and three sisters. He managed to stay solvent until the fleet, all registered at Castellamare di Stabia, was requisitioned at the start of World War I by the Italian Government, all becoming war casualties. The extended Lauro family in the Naples area, including the Fratelli Lauro (Lauro Brothers), owned a further ten wooden barques since the turn of the century.
Flotta Lauro (1920-1987)
In 1920, Achille Lauro was left with little money and no ships, but he came up with a novel method of ship operation that was to make him a multi-millionaire and the most powerful man in Naples. This was to make all of his shore staff and seafarers investors in Societa Flotta Lauro, founded in 1920 and which lasted until 1987. The strategy was to create a company with limited participation (Societa in Accomandita) by having all of his personnel invest their savings for a share of the profits and a firm guarantee of employment. This type of novel company structure eventually brought Lauro great financial success, as all of his employees were tied by investment in the company, and thus Lauro avoided trade union problems and obtained the greatest productivity possible.
The first tramp ship was purchased in 1922 in the American steamer Lloyd of 3,872 grt, and had been built in 1895 for Norddeutscher Lloyd as Halle by the Germania Werft yard at Kiel. She was renamed Iris and had dimensions of length 356.9 feet by moulded beam of 43.7 feet with a depth of 25.5 feet and a long combined bridge and poop deck of 218 feet in length. The first voyages showed profits and longer voyages through the Suez Canal to East Africa, India and Indo China were made during the next five years. Achille Lauro succeeded in avoiding costly ballast voyages by loading his ships with coal from English ports to Italian ports and returning with grain from Romanian ports to Rotterdam. The profits were always reinvested in Flotta Lauro, with seven tramps owned in 1929 in Edera 3,851/02, Erica 4,376/04, Felce 5,938/10, Iris 4,787/07, Koefia 3,823/03, Liana 4,298/03 and Taide 2,770/21.
By 1932, his only Italian competitors were the fleets of Costa and Fassio, and he owned a fleet of a dozen tramps on worldwide tramping as well as on a service from Italian ports to Italian East Africa. Achille Lauro made substantial money from the arms trade linked to the colonial expansion of Italian Fascism, which culminated in the conquest of Ethiopia in 1933. Flotta Lauro and the Lauro businesses blossomed with the help of influential members of the Fascist National Party, which Achille Lauro also formally joined in 1933. He had the support for many years in the 1920s and 1930s of the Ciano shipowning family, and became national counsellor to the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni. Galeazzo Ciano was none other than the son-in-law of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Achille Lauro was a very popular figure in inter-war Naples, and was President of the Naples football club SSC Napoli. He was appointed as a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Government in 1938 for the good labour relations in his businesses. He obtained in 1936 the monopoly passenger and freight concession for the service from Italy to East Africa.
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