Stavros Niarchos was a multi-billionaire Greek shipping tycoon. Starting in 1952, he had the world’s biggest supertankers built for his fleet. Propelled by both the Suez Crisis and an increasing demand for oil, he and rival Aristotle Onassis became giants in global petroleum shipping.
Niarchos was also a noted thoroughbred horse breeder and racer, several times the leading owner and number one on the French breed list.
Stavros Niarchos was born in Athens in 1909. His family was affluent and had moved back from America to Greece just months before he was born. Niarchos studied law at the Athens University and then went on to join his mother’s family grain business, working with the mills. When he realized that the business could become more profitable if they owned their own ships, Niarchos’ fate transformed. This idea was to spark the beginnings of an empire. It is reported that at one point, the Niarchos company operated more than 80 tankers. Alongside this fleet, Niarchos also developed an impressive modern art portfolio and owned racehorses.
Niarchos was a naval officer in World War II, during which time part of the trade fleet he had developed with his uncle was destroyed. He used about two million dollars in insurance settlement to build a new fleet. His most famous asset was the yacht Atlantis, currently known as Issham Al Baher after having been gifted to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
He then founded Niarchos Ltd, an international shipping company that at one time operated more than 80 tankers worldwide. He and Aristotle Onassis were great shipping rivals. In 1952, high-capacity oil supertankers were built for the competing Niarchos and Onassis fleets, who both claimed to own the largest tanker in the world.
In 1956, the Suez Canal Crisis considerably increased the demand for the type of large-tonnage ships that Niarchos owned. Business flourished and he became a billionaire.