Achille Lauro
LIGHT MODE
DARK MODE
Get 1 year from 27.50 €

Digital and paper subscriptions available worldwide

Subscribe now

Achille Lauro

In October 1985, US fighter planes intercepted an Egypt airliner flying the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro to freedom in Tunisia, forcing it to land in Sicily, where the terrorists were arrested by Italian police. This was the end of a two-day drama during which the

bookmark
Thu 26 Jun 2008 12:00 AM

In
October 1985, US fighter planes intercepted an Egypt
airliner flying the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro to freedom
in Tunisia,
forcing it to land in Sicily,
where the terrorists were arrested by Italian police. This was the end of a
two-day drama during which the ship was commandeered in Egyptian waters by four
heavily armed members of the Palestine Liberation Front, who demanded that Israel
free 50 Palestinian prisoners. To ensure that both passengers and authorities
knew they meant business, the hijackers shot a disabled Jewish American tourist
and threw him, still in his wheelchair, into the sea. Nine years later, the
Achille Lauro caught fire and sank off the coast of Somalia.

 

But
who was it that gave his name to the star-crossed liner? Who was Achille Lauro?

 

He
was a wheeling-dealing shipping tycoon, flamboyant politician, long-time mayor
of Naples
and, for a time, president of the Naples
soccer club. Born the fifth of six children into a small ship-owning family in
Piano di Sorrento on June
16, 1887, Lauro, not a good student,
managed to get a diploma as ship’s master after returning from a traumatic
stint at sea where his father had sent him, aged 14, as punishment for dallying
with one of the family’s maids.

 

From
1912, when he inherited his first small coastal vessel, until the outbreak of
World War I, he gradually built up a fleet of ships only to have it requisitioned
for the war effort. At war’s end, he started again from scratch, and by 1933,
with the help of influential members of the Fascist Party that he had now
joined, his fleet grew to 21 ships. By the time World War II broke out, he had
increased the number to 57, yet only 5 remained at the end of hostilities. As
part compensation for the ships he lost, Mussolini allowed him to acquire an
interest in several important Neapolitan newspapers. In 1943, on the arrival of
the Allies, he was charged with aiding and abetting fascism. After 22 months in
a prison camp, he was acquitted.

 

So,
in the 1950s, he began, for the third time, to reconstruct his company, Flotta
Lauro. This time, along with merchant ships, he moved into the
round-the-world-passenger-liner market, carrying Italian immigrants to Australia
and New Zealand
and bringing tourists back to Europe.
Now a multimillionaire, he decided to branch into politics. He was elected
mayor of Naples
in 1951 and again in 1956 and 1958. In national politics, often a member of
parliament or senator, he briefly joined the Uomo Qualunque Movement before
heavily investing in creating the Partito Nazionale Monarchico. In 1972, he
left the monarchists and joined the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) and, in
1976, Democrazia Nazionale, a spin-off of MSI.

 

Lauro’s
pharaonic campaigning reinforced his immense popularity, especially in Naples,
where he was simply called ‘the Commandante’. Before elections, he handed out
free packets of pasta or offered voters a new left shoe, giving them the right
one once they could prove they had made the right choice. Not surprisingly, one
journalist described him as ‘half way between a viceroy of Spain
and Masaniello, between Cardinal
Ruffo and a buccaneer of the Caribbean’.

 

As
mayor, Lauro has frequently been criticised for the rampant real estate
speculation in Naples
during the boom years of the 1950s and for the corruption this lead to, not
unlike that depicted by Francesco Rosi in his film Hands Over the City.
On the plus side, he built the San Paolo football stadium, the railway station
at Piazza Garibaldi, numerous fountains and, in 1976, founded Canale 21, the
first private TV station in Europe.

 

A
blue-eyed man of medium height, always well dressed and perfumed, Lauro was an
unrepentant ladies’ man. In fact, he seems to have successfully juggled two
parallel families.  His long-suffering
first wife, Angelina, gave him three children, while Jolanda, his ‘official’
mistress, another son. After Angelina’s death, Lauro, then 83, married Eliana
Merolla, a beautiful young actress 50 years his junior; they adopted a Thai
baby girl.

 

The
international oil crisis led Flotta Lauro into grave financial difficulty by
the end of the 1970s. After Lauro died, aged 95, on November 15, 1982,
the fleet was broken up and sold, but this did not stop thousands of
Neapolitans attending the funeral of the man they considered the last king of Naples.

 

 

Related articles

ART + CULTURE

Science sisters: Artemisia visits the National Institute of Optics

INO Director Raffaella Fontana tells us about the conservation of Artemisia's Allegory of Inclination, using 3D digital technology.

ART + CULTURE

Honoring heroes of the past

Learn the backstory of "Heroes, a True Story" based on courageous real-life events in Fiesole during the Second World War.

ART + CULTURE

Alfredo Pirri at Florence Opera House

Take a Sunday morning tour of Alfredo Pirri's art installation on the roof of Florence Opera House

LIGHT MODE
DARK MODE