Adieu Monsieur Pascal Lota!
The founder and owner since 1968 of the group Corsica Sardinia Elba Ferries died in Bastia, aged 83
One of the most telling stories about Pascal Lota, who last week passed over aged 83, has him, when already Corsica Ferries’ shipowner, carefully putting down on a notebook the number plates of the tourist cars he spotted on the quays boarding the competitors’ ships, then promptly signalling his company’s sellers which regional markets they had to focus on in accordance.
Tales like that abound, however, involving the man who thought up the first French private ferry operator ever, which today is worth 13 vessels (the last-comer being Mega Andrea, since last year the co-flagship of Mega Smeralda) and a throughput exceeding 3.5 million passengers while controlled by holding Lota Maritime, based in Lugano (Switzerland) and with interests in travel agencies, hotels, and real estate.
A long leap forward for a move that originally had sprung to mind as a reaction to the French dockworkers’ continuous strikes which hindered the trades with his native island, Corsica.
Indeed, back in 1968, almost half a century ago, Lota, together with a supporting handful of trusting aides and Italian partners – among them Scoccimarro and Garello, while Poulides, a Genoese dweller of Greek origin, would join later – set up from nil his shipping company with a non-marginal share of trades towards Corsica and some routes to Sardinia and Elba Island, too.
The shipowner, native of Bastia, Corsica’s pivotal port for ferry trades, lived there in a wonderful villa on the hills whence he could observe the vessels’ daily throughput. Until a couple of years ago he regularly paid visits at his headquarters while his last appearance in Italy dates back to 2012 in Leghorn.
During the last 20 years Lota steered the company with the help of increasingly trusted managing director Pierre Mattei (he, too, a Corsican, born in 1964).
Quite recently, one of his 4 sons, Frederic, tried his guts at steering the boat but mainly stirred up unease among managers than winning a pot. More wisely perhaps, his sisters and co-shareholders in Lota Maritime have chosen to keep to their gilded retreat in Switzerland.
Lota was a simple, down-to-earth entrepreneur, thus frank and sometimes even blunt. His verbal and commercial squabbles with Moby’s patron, Vincenzo Onorato, were all the rage of the shipping milieu and beyond. In fact, despite their arguments, they actually were very much alike and they deeply respected each other.
No less well-known were Lota’s frequent legal fights, mostly successful, against the French public ferry operator Sncm (by now sunk) and its sister companies, aimed at cracking the monopoly and dismantling competition grounded on more o less hidden state aids, another trait he shared with Onorato.
When he opened shop under the name Corsica Line (changed to Corsica Ferries in 1973), Lota had just one ferry to deploy, second-hand Corsica Express, the first private vessel ever to depart from Genoa (with 600 passengers and 60 cars) for the island that had once belonged to the Republic of Genoa. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, the ferry operator gained full rights on the brand Sardinia Express from the acquisition of company Trans Tirreno Express (TTE) and, by mid-1990s, Elba Ferries.
As to domestic trades, his vessels linked Nice and Toulon in mainland France (never Marseilles, Sncm’s stronghold) with practically all Corsican ports, ie Bastia, Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio, Propriano, Ile Rousse, and Calvi; while in Italy his yellow ships with blue strips and writings berthed at Genoa, Leghorn, Civitavecchia (Rome), Vado Ligure (Savona), La Spezia, Olbia and Golfo Aranci (both Olbia-Tempio), Porto Torres (Sassari), Cagliari, Piombino and Portoferraio (both Leghorn, the latter on Elba Island).
He was among the first to deploy hi-speed ferries on the Tyrrhenian Sea (single-hull crafts built at the Rodriquez yard in Pietra Ligure, Savona), thus potentially halving transit times. However, the waves they generated hit the beaches and the consequent complaints by bathers prompted the relevant Harbour Master’s Offices to severely curtail their speed in so wide a range that their use became counterproductive.
For this reason and also because, for once, he lost his battle against the local pilots and the dockers, Lota had Corsica Ferries to relinquish Genoa for the second time and for good.
Cruise Ferries ordered other ships in Italy, notably the Mega class from Leghorn-based yard Fratelli Orlando, ie ro-pax vessels in the vein of the cruise ferries pioneered by Genoa-based Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV, a company then owned by the Italian shipowners’ doyen, Aldo Grimaldi), and of those later adopted by Onorato himself.
After an agreement signed with cargo competitor Carlo Andrea Marsano, a Genoese shipowner engaged with Lloyd Sardegna – Linea dei Golfi on the trades between Tuscany and Sardinia, 10 years ago Lota took agreed to buy the falling company Strade Blu owned by Benetton and Cimaschi, arguably one of his worst deals.
But Lota did not confine himself to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Indeed, he boldly crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set shop in the French departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, which lasted until smothered by levies, monopolies, and bureaucracy.
He also reached Greece, where in 2007 he set up with Spanos Maritime the joint venture Kallisti Ferries which deployed two ferries servicing the Cycladic Island and the Eastern Aegean Sea.
Nowadays Corsica Ferries Sardinia Ferries is the commercial brand of Corsica Ferries France SAS, headquartered in Bastia, and of its Italian counterpart, Savona-based Forship SpA, managing a 50,000 sqm ro-ro terminal granted in concession for several years.
Lota has never been much loved by his fellow mainland countrymen. All in all, he always felt closer to Italy – as to both geography and language – than to continental France.
Perhaps this may explain why he became a member of the Italian shipowners’ association (Confitarma), though he soon left because of clashes with other associates and the inkling the body was not wholeheartedly on his side.
A true Corsican, and so a bold fighter for his ideals, in love with his island but a white knight of civil rights and free enterprise: on these grounds Pascal Lota was more like Pascal Paoli, the native irredentist patriot, than the island’s great man per excellence, peerless general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Adieu, Monsieur Pascal Lota!