Back in 2015, it looked like one of the more eccentric ideas in the history of shipbuilding was going to sink without a trace. The Titanic II project, the brainchild of billionaire Australian businessman and politician Clive Palmer, was announced in 2012 and aimed to create an authentic replica of the original Titanic cruise liner, which sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912, with more than 1,500 passengers and crew losing their lives.
The cruise liner, which was due to make its first voyage in 2016, was planned as a detailed replica of the original vessel, with impeccably recreated interiors and hull form, albeit slightly larger than the original and incorporating modern safety technologies and standards, including more than enough lifeboats and rafts to evacuate all passengers and crew in case history should repeat itself.
While the media clamoured at the ambition of the idea and sceptical commentators wondered if it was anything more than a publicity stunt from a businessman with a history of ego-driven bad ideas, Palmer appeared confident that the vessel would be built. Blue Star Line – its name harking back to the White Star Line that built the original Titanic – was established to steward the A$700m project to completion, and reputable contractors such as Deltamarin and Lloyd’s Register Marine were brought on board to create and review designs for the ship. CSC Jinling shipyard in China was mooted as the site for the construction of the vessel.
“Millions have dreamt of sailing on her, seeing her in port and experiencing her unique majesty,” Palmer said in 2012. “Titanic II will be the ship where those dreams come true.”
Three years later, the dream had soured.
Deadlines had already slipped to the extent that the 2016 launch date was already out of reach, but in 2015 a dispute over mining royalty payments between Palmer’s company Mineralogy and Chinese firm CITIC reportedly drained the project of funds, putting it on indefinite hold.
The revived Titanic II project
In September 2018, Titanic II seemed to experience a miraculous revival. The Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled in 2017 that Citic was obliged to pay nearly $150m in unpaid royalties, which apparently left enough in the pot to bring Palmer’s passion project back to life.
In late 2018, Blue Star Line announced that Deltamarin had recommenced work on the project, and in December V.Ships Leisure was contracted to support the development of the build.
“We are looking forward to assisting Blue Star Line with our expertise in project support, new build supervision and ship management,’’ said V.Ships Leisure director Per Bjornsen. “This process showcases the full spectrum of ways in which ship management can add value from the very beginning in the management of a cruise vessel, long before the first steel is even cut.”
Palmer also made headlines last year when he announced that the European headquarters would be established in Paris rather than London due to concerns over Brexit, and that the European operation would be overseen by the somewhat worryingly named Clive Mensink.
Should Titanic II be taken seriously?
Even if Palmer’s Titanic II appears to have a tentative green light again, there’s little reason to believe that this project will ever see the light of day. Conflicting media reports over basic information such as whether or not construction on the ship has actually started, and where it will be built – some reports have said construction is already underway, while others have noted that the upcoming build is expected to take place in China, and still others have quoted Blue Star Line as saying the ship will likely be built in the Northern hemisphere.
Blue Star Line is doing little to provide clarity on key details, and appears to have deleted from its website many news releases quoted in media reports about the project. Even a widely-reported new launch date of 2022 was contradicted by the company, which confirmed to The Guardian in October that no dates had been announced, no construction had taken place and no shipbuilders had been contracted.
Beyond the lack of credible confirmation that the project is remotely ready to move forward, there are reasons to doubt that even a ship outfitted exactly as Palmer has described – from the recreated gymnasium to the ballrooms and Turkish baths – would actually find a market. No information on pricing is available, but Blue Star Line seems set on reviving period-specific details that are completely out-of-step with modern cruise expectations.
Air conditioning will apparently be added, but there will be no televisions or internet access, with the idea being that passengers who have no doubt spent thousands will be happier dressing up in period outfits, which will reportedly be provided in every room.
Second and third-class cabins circa 1912 will be incorporated, with narrow bunk beds and wash basins replacing the bathrooms and sea views that modern cruise customers expect, despite Palmer’s insistence is that third class is “where the fun will be”. Perhaps he imagines the cheerful working-class dancing scenes with Jack and Rose from the 1997 movie. By the by, Palmer has also said ‘Palmer Pictures’ is looking to outdo James Cameron’s classic with a Titanic movie of his own, a romance filmed onboard Titanic II.
The ultimate fate of the project remains to be seen. There are certainly viable ways of reviving the Titanic as a non-functional museum or centrepiece tourist attraction, as a theme park in China’s Sichuan province is attempting to do. But with Palmer’s history of over-reaching and the sketchy details of the build, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the vanity project of a billionaire Titanic obsessive looking to recreate a bygone relic of colonial elegance, without much thought put into whether the rest of the world is as interested as he is. Titanic II might not be sunk yet, but it would be a minor miracle if this project turns out to be seaworthy.