Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entries Oct 2004  and Oct 2021       

                                                        Two Ship Owners

Achille Lauro (1887-1982)   and    Aldo Grimaldi (1922-2018)

Foreigners familiar with the name "Achille Lauro" generally know it as the name of an ill-fated ship. The keel was laid in 1939 in the Netherlands, but the ship was not launched until 1947. The original name was the Willem Ruys; she was sold to the Lauro line in 1964, and the name was changed to the Achille Lauro.Then came the notorious hijacking by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in October of 1985. Subsequently, the passenger liner continued in service until 1994 when she caught fire off the coast of Somalia, was abandoned, and sank.

Neapolitans, however, remember the eponym, himself: Achille Lauro, the shipping magnate —the "Neapolitan Onassis," the "King of Naples," the Commandante they called him —the wheeler-dealer millionaire and popular mayor of Naples in the boom 1950s, owner of the Naples football team, builder of beautiful fountains all over town and, alas, overbuilder of row upon row of new, anonymous flats. (One Lauro defender, Achille della Ragione, author of a recent book entitled Achille Lauro, Superstar, reminds critics, however, that Lauro was not responsible for one particularly egregious people warren on the Vomero height overlooking via Aniello Falcone, an enormous block of flats so ungainly that to this day locals call it "The Great Wall of China.")

Lauro was born in 1887 in the town of Piano di Sorrento. He attended a civilian maritime school and inherited a first small coasting vessel in 1912. By the outbreak of the Great War he had a small merchant fleet, the ships of which were requisitioned by the state for the war effort. He started anew and by 1933 had a fleet of 21 ships. He joined the Fascist party in 1933. At the beginning of WW II he put his considerable merchant fleet of 57 ships at the disposal of the Italian war effort. During the war he acquired 50% share in a number of Neapolitan daily newspapers. He was arrested by the Allies in 1943 and spent 22 months in jail. By the end of the war his fleet had been reduced to five ships. He was not found guilty of criminal activity and was released from prison. In 1949 he went into the true passenger business with the acquisition of a liner from the American Grace Lines, renaming the ship Surriento, the dialect spelling of "Sorrento." During the 1950s he rebuilt his fleet to 50 ships.

He became the mayor of Naples in 1952, winning re-election in 1956 and again in 1960. In 1972 he was elected to parliament as a member of the Monarchist party. (That may seem strange to those unfamiliar with post-war Italy; a contested referendum in 1946 narrowly chose to send the monarchy into exile and turn Italy into a presidential republic. In Naples, however, the monarchy carried the vote by a margin of 10 to 1.)

In the building frenzy of the 1950s, Lauro was responsible for many of  the 80,000 new dwellings built in Naples, the construction of the San Paolo football stadium in Fuori Grotta and a new train station at Piazza Garibaldi.

In 1973 Lauro went into the oil tanker business with the purchase of two supertankers, the Coraggio and the Volere. In 1976, at the age of 89, he founded Canale 21 in Naples, the first private TV station in Europe. He lost his last electoral campaign in 1979. In 1981 financial troubles beset his empire. He died in 1982. After his death his fleet was broken up and sold.

It is hard to get a neutral opinion on Lauro. Like all self-made millionaires, he was ambitious and knew how to get things done. He was mayor at a time when the city was still recovering from the considerable urban devastation of WW2. The port and industrial plant of the city were ruined, and the population was over a million and climbing. His critics accused him of being a qualunquista —an Anythingarian— with a too pragmatic, "whatever-works" approach to urban problems, one that led to rampant overbuilding and corruption. His defenders claim that he did what he had to do to revive the city. Me? I just live here.

added Oct. 2021   
                           GNV Ships and Aldo Grimaldi

GNV stands for Grandi Navi Veloci (abbr. GNV). That is, "Large Fast Ships." They are.  First, a shipowner is the owner of a merchant vessel. Not the captain — the owner, the person who equips and exploits the vessel for delivering cargo. Shipowners typically hire a licensed crew and captain rather than take charge of the vessel in person. GNV was created in 1992 by Aldo Grimaldi (1922-2018) (image below). His family was vital to the post-war Italian merchant marine (shipowner Achille Lauro was his uncle). Aldo got a university degree in maritime economics and sciences and a ship captain's license in Naples. His first "shipowning" was recovering and refurbishing "Liberty ships" left from WWII. The first GNV ship,  Majestic, went into service in 1993 on the Genoa-Palermo route, followed in 1994 by the Splendid on the Genoa-Porto Torres (Sardinia) route. They were the first cruise ferries ever operated by an Italian company.

The fleet was enlarged with new cruise ferries through the 1990s. New routes were added, including Livorno-Palermo, Genoa-Olbia and Genoa-Barcelona. In 2002 and 2003 the new, large cruise ferries La Superba and La Suprema went into service. Lines for Tunisia and a new Civitavecchia (Rome)-Palermo line, were opened. In 2008 the fleet was enlarged with three ro-ro (roll-on roll-off) cargo ships and a new Genoa-Barcelona-Tangier line was opened. In 2010 GNV opened new lines between Sète (southern France), Tangier, and Nador (Morocco) and in 2015, GNV opened a new line between Italy and Albania.The company as of 2018 operates a fleet of thirteen cruise ferries, including some of the largest ferries in Europe. Recently GNV converted one of their ferries, Splendid (image above), into a hospital ship in order to treat coronavirus patients. The ship was delivered to Liguria, Italy, on 23 March 2020, for the symbolic cost of 1 EUR. With help from a number of local and national companies, who donated time, materials, and expertise, Splendid was converted into a hospital ship in 10 days.

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