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Rags-to-riches yachtsman dies in Mumbai

Luxury charter entrepreneur Andreas Liveras was gunned down in the attack on Taj Mahal Palace hotel

The charter yachting industry was shaken by the death of Andreas Liveras, one of its beloved figures, in the November terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

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Liveras, 73, chairman of Liveras Yachts, a Monaco-based superyacht charter firm, died in a hail of gunfire as the terrorists broke into the basement of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where a number of staff and guests had sought refuge. Liveras, who was staying aboard his 280-foot luxury charter yacht Alysia in Mumbai Harbor, had just dropped in at the hotel restaurant Nov. 26 with three of his staff to dine on its renowned curry when terrorists armed with AK-47s and grenades stormed the hotel at about 8:20 p.m.

The British press reported that Liveras, a gregarious and irrepressible Greek Cypriot who lived in London and held British and Cypriot passports, called his family from the basement by cell phone to tell them he was OK, then rang the BBC to describe what was going on.

“The last bomb exploded about 45 minutes ago, and it shook the hotel up,” he told the BBC. “Nobody comes in this room and nobody goes out. All we know is the bombs are next door, and the hotel is shaking. … Everybody is just living on their nerves.”

But by early Thursday — about eight hours after the first explosions reverberated through the hotel — Liveras was dead. “Eventually … the gunmen got into the room where my father was and sprayed bullets,” Liveras’ son Dionysios told The Sunday Telegraph. “He died from multiple wounds.”

Liveras had sent Alysia to India’s financial capital to host a series of client marketing events and meetings for Edmiston & Co., a London-based international yacht charter and sales firm, said Jamie Edmiston, a company director, in an e-mail to Soundings. Edmiston says Alysia had arrived in Mumbai harbor en route from the Persian Gulf to charter cruising grounds in the Maldives.

Five Edmiston representatives were hosting guests aboard Alysia that evening. Hearing rifle fire, one of them, Nicholas Edmiston, Jamie’s father, called Liveras from Alysia and advised him to return to the yacht. Unknown to either of them, 10 terrorists were launching simultaneous attacks on at least six targets, including the five-star Taj Mahal and another luxury waterfront hotel, the Oberoi-Trident, a hospital, train station, the popular restaurant Café Leopold, and a Jewish cultural center.

Liveras and his party, who had just sat down for dinner, did not immediately leave the hotel when alerted to the rifle fire. “The events moved very quickly. No one really understood how bad it was until it was too late,” Edmiston says.

He says it does not appear that Liveras was singled out for execution because he carried a British passport, as reported early on. “He was caught in the crossfire — it was simply very bad luck that he was hit,” Edmiston says. One of Liveras’ staff, whose name was not released, also was badly wounded in the shootout.

Though small in stature — maybe 5 feet, 4 inches — Liveras “was larger than life,” says Jennifer Saia, president of The Sacks Group, a Fort Lauderdale yacht management company. Liveras was a visionary — a friend and mentor of hers for 15 years, she says. “He revolutionized the industry, and he made it really fun.”

Saia says she will miss the spark Liveras brought to the industry — the grand theme parties he threw for yacht brokers, the great chefs and musicians he hired, the terrific food he served, the staff in period costume, the people he drew to him. “He was always entertaining,” she says. “If you saw a picture of Andreas, he was always smiling. He would light up a room. He always liked to be surrounded by people.”

Saia says Liveras pioneered the niche between privately owned superyachts put into charter when their owners aren’t using them and small passenger cruise ships. First, Liveras refurbished older yachts for charter. Later, he built new ones to SOLAS standards so they could carry more than 12 passengers — the limit for an uninspected passenger vessel over 100 tons — and host gala events, corporate charters, and anniversary and birthday cruises. And Liveras’ firm owned its own vessels instead of managing them in charter for wealthy clients.

“He started with small boats. They got bigger and bigger until he got into these small passenger vessels of the last few years,” Saia says.

Liveras Yachts’ purpose-built 280-foot Alysia carries 36 passengers and the 296-foot Lauren L carries 40. Liveras had planned to build twin 320-footers and a pair of 395s, underscoring his success in tapping this unmined vein and fortifying his position as builder of some of the world’s largest charter yachts. He also refurbished Princess Lauren, Princess Tanya, Rosenkavalier and Altair, putting them in service as elegant yachts for cruising, event and entertainment charters.

Others tried to do what Liveras did but gave up, says Carlo Agliardi, a former president of Fraser Yachts, a superyacht sales and charter management company with offices in Monaco. “He has been the only one who has been consistent in investing in and buying and refitting and building these large yachts specifically and only for charter purposes,” not for private owners’ use, he says.

“He will be missed. We are shocked by this, of course. It was so violent, so sudden. It was very shocking indeed.”

A talented and passionate entrepreneur, Liveras was fond of telling how he rose from a hired farmhand in Cyprus to 265th on the 2008 Sunday Times’ list of the richest people in Great Britain. As a young man in his 20s, he imported a combine harvester to Cyprus in hopes of renting his services out to farmers.

When the brakes failed and the harvester crashed and he had no insurance to repair it, he emigrated to London to work as a delivery man for pastry-maker Fleur De Lys, which operated out of a Kensington basement. Five years later, when the business was going under, he bought it, grew it and by the time he sold it in 1985 to Express Dairies for an eight-figure, multimillion-pound sum, it was one of the largest independent manufacturers of frozen cakes in Europe, according to his Web biography.

The sale gave him the time and money to indulge his growing passion for yachts, which he had been buying and selling for his own use. As his yachts became bigger and he chafed in retirement, he started carving out a piece of the charter market. In 1992, he and son Dionysios got back in the bakery business, starting Laurens Patisseries and growing it into one of Britain’s largest cream-filled pastry makers. He sold that in 2006 for 130 million pounds.

“He was a good businessman,” Agliardi says.

He wasn’t just a good strategic thinker. He liked to be in the thick of action, Saia recalls, which probably was why he was in Mumbai. “He was so hands-on,” she says. “He was all over the world. The sheer energy this man had — at 73.”

When Saia took over management of Sacks in 1994, Liveras took her under his wing. “I learned so much from him,” she says. “And I laughed so much with him.” She says his passion for the charter business

energized her.

Liveras-owned yachts hosted Monaco’s conservation-minded Prince Albert II’s exclusive fund-raising events for clean oceans three or four times, recalls Jim Gilbert, president of the International SeaKeepers Society.

“He was always generous,” Gilbert says, and will be remembered for that.

Liveras is survived by his son and three daughters — Mary, Sophia and Krita. His wife, Anna, died last year.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.