EARLIER this year, Clive Palmer, Australian mining mogul and billionaire, held a glitzy press conference in New York to announce his plans to build Titanic II, the flagship of his shipping company, Blue Star Line.
The ship will be built in China and will set sail in 2016. Reaction was incredulity and ridicule — yet 40,000 people have still applied for tickets for the maiden voyage. Offers of $1m have reportedly been made for first-class cabins.
Building Titanic II, which will recreate Titanic’s maiden voyage, is viewed as insensitive, courting disaster, and a mockery of the memory of those who died this month in 1912.
Dave Fredericks, a descendant of a Titanic survivor from Southampton, is supporting a petition to block Titanic II.
“When asked why he is building Titanic II, Clive Palmer arrogantly responds ‘because I can’. I say the question should not be ‘why he is building it?’, but, more, ‘should he be building it?’ And, respectfully and morally, the answer to that question must be no,” Fredericks says.
Michael Molloy, from the Addergoole Titanic Society, is open-minded. “For April 2012, a local group of enthusiasts built a large scale model of Titanic and launched it on Loch Conn, so, actually, Lahardane labour built Titanic II in the memory of the Addergoole 14. “It would be very nostalgic, and fitting, if relatives of those on RMS Titanic were given the opportunity to travel as a group on one of the Titanic II voyages. There would be stories to tell then,” Molloy says.
Helen Benziger, great granddaughter of Margaret ‘The Unsinkable Molly’ Brown, agrees. “I will be on the maiden voyage of Titanic II. I am hoping for the same cabin as my great grandmother. It would be amazing to finish the voyage for her,” Benziger says.
A Titanic II would be of huge interest, a fascinating opportunity to revisit history. “Passengers on, and visitors to, Titanic II will have a historical interest in the ship, in the same way as those who visit ground zero or the green fields of France,” says Michael Martin, who runs the Titanic trail tour in Cobh.
“It is not disrespectful to do that and we don’t denigrate people for revisiting those places of historical tragedies. Titanic was an immense tragedy, but that doesn’t ring-fence it from being of historical interest.”
Historical interest aside, is it moral to build a replica of a ship that is synonymous with such awful tragedy?
“Questions of morality were raised about the Balmoral as it recreated Titanic’s maiden voyage to mark the centenary,” says Martin.
“For the relatives, it was very meaningful for them to recreate the journey. In terms of using the Titanic name, there is a naval tradition to use ships’ names on multiple occasions, despite sinkings and loss of life.”
That Titanic II will be built in China, and not in Belfast, like the original, has been a matter of debate.
A spokesperson for Titanic Belfast says. “While there are many great reasons to be proud of our ship-building heritage, Titanic Belfast is utmost respectful and mindful of the loss of life on RMS Titanic. As the authentic home of Titanic, it would be natural to expect Titanic II to dock in Belfast. It would not be a case of the Titanic coming back, more so a near-replica of RMS Titanic being built to sail in its name. Titanic Belfast would naturally welcome its arrival into Belfast.”
It remains to be seen whether Palmer’s ambitious project will come to fruition. After all, he is a man who doesn’t have the best maritime track-record, with one of his luxury super-yachts, worth a reported $5.3m, almost sinking off Queensland’s Gold Coast last week.
Whatever your own views on Titanic II, even die-hard enthusiasts should prepare to be underwhelmed. “Titanic would be a very small ship by today’s standards,” says Martin. “Some vessels which now come into Cobh harbour are three times the size.”
*Hazel Gaynor’s Titanic novel, The Girl Who Came Home, is available on the Amazon Kindle store. For more on Titanic II, see www.bluestarline.com.au