Everyone knows who are the world's biggest, cleverest and richest shipowners. They are the Golden Greeks, led by those indefatigable headliners, Ari Onassis and Stavros Niarchos—right? Maybe, but someone is right in the same league. A scarcely known shipowner from Hong Kong named Y.K. Pao may soon become the largest of them all.

Beginning in 1955 with an aging tramp steamer, Pao has built a fleet of 3.5 million tons, most of it in ultramodern supertankers and bulk carriers. By comparison, Niarchos controls 3.4 million tons and Onassis 4.3 million. Pao's navy...

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