RMS Titanic was, legend tells us, 'unsinkable'. But four days into her maiden voyage she struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Now an Australian billionaire is planning to rewrite history with a happy ending.
It may be 104 years late, but when Titanic II steams into New York harbour in the summer of 2016 it will still create a media stir. The original RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on 10 April 1912 and after stops at Cherbourg and Cobh, Ireland, headed across the Atlantic bound for New York. Four days later and 375 miles from her destination she struck an iceberg and sank. The disaster claimed the lives of 1,502 of the complement of 2,224 passengers and crew.
Now, over a century later, plans are underway to build a full-size working replica of Titanic, to ply the same transatlantic route as the White Star Line's ill-fated liner. The ship, Titanic II, is the brainchild of Australian billionaire Clive Palmer and will be operated by his Blue Star Line company. The 59-year-old businessman made his fortune in the mining sector. His company, Mineralogy, own the mining rights to 160 billion tonnes of magnetite ore in Queensland.
He is not averse to high-risk, seemingly eccentric projects: he is already constructing his own 'Jurassic Park', complete with 100'giant animatronic dinosaurs, at his luxury Coolum resort on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
The ill-fated original ship was designed by Thomas Andrews and built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast; however, Palmer's liner will be constructed at the CSC Jingling Shipyard in China.
"Why build the Titanic?" Palmer muses. "Simply because we can. We can bring to life the vision of the original architects and craftsmen. We can remember who we are and where we came from. The original Titanic came from a time when the world was different. There was a different culture, a different way of living and when people worked with each other. What we can do now is stand for what the original voyagers stood for, to complete their journey and sail into New York on the ship that they designed."
Health, safety and movie moments
Titanic II will honour the original ship, in both size and architectural detail. Palmer is adamant that the experience will be the same. There are however a few differences. The new ship will be four metres wider to give it more stability; there is an entire new deck, dubbed the 'safety deck', which will contain lifeboats.
"I got a question when we were in New York; the journalists are very tough out there. They had been looking at the plans and noticed that it was three inches longer than the original. One guy stood up in the press conference and asked why it was three inches longer, and I said 'well three inches can make all the difference'. The truth is that it is three inches bigger to allow us to install a camera on the bow so that anyone can stand there with their arms out and get that famous snapshot."
Palmer has been coy about discussing the cost - simply saying, "I have enough money to pay for it, so that's all that really matters". Certainly his romantic view seems to have caught the public imagination. "40,000 people had already registered for tickets on the first voyage," he says. "Money was never my motivation behind this project, but such is the demand it looks as if unfortunately I will make lots more money out of this project."
Aside from shipbuilders CSC Jingling, Palmer has entrusted well-known naval architects Deltamarin to undertake the design and Tillberg Design of Sweden has been retained to provide architectural and design services for the interior of the project. Most of the original ship's features will be retained, including the Turkish baths, grand staircase, smoking room, and Caf' Parisien.
"The scope of work for the contract with Deltamarin includes the establishment of project steering committees and a management team," Palmer says. "Deltamarin will be responsible for coordinating the various parties involved in the project including the shipyard, architects, interior designers and operations managers."
A class apart
Key differences to the original include a high-tech engine, air-conditioning and a safety deck with more lifeboats (including 18 covered motorised lifeboats). As with the original, there would be first, second and third classes and they would not be allowed to mingle.
Palmer said he would be travelling third class on the maiden voyage, dressed in a wig and 1912 garb. "I like Irish stew and potatoes," he says. "I'm looking forward to banging the drums, playing the fiddle and getting dizzy as I twirl around like Leonardo did in the movie."
Mirroring the passion displayed by Palmer is Markku Kanerva, director of sales at Deltamarin, who seems to be approaching the project with almost naive gusto. "I am a naval architect and it is a lifetime opportunity," he says. "It is a challenge but really thrilling and I am really honoured to be in such a position."
Kanerva explains that rather than from Palmer himself, the introduction came from the shipbuilders. "The shipyard contacted us because we had been working with them; then we had a meeting with the owners in Hong Kong last June and made a contract."
Unlike other projects this one has its roots in the past. "It is an easier way to start because you have a reference case and they want a replica," Kanerva says. "So the only thing you have to do is prove that you can fill the present-day safety regulations plus how to apply today's technology.
"It was actually quite easy to see that although we weren't going to have a riveted hull, the main construction principles were well defined. That means the main framing system and the main pillar line systems, everything was very well thought of and designed. Even though it was a hundred years ago, it was a very well designed ship.
"The only thing that had to be considered carefully was the stability of the vessel. So we decided to go for a vessel four metres wider, which meant we could easily implement one extra deck for the life boats, which fulfills all the stability requirements."
The power plant for the ship will be diesel - electric with four diesel engines and electric transmission. This arrangement takes up a lot less space and will only require two funnels instead of the original four (although one of these was indeed 'for show' only, so perhaps Palmer's spirit of showmanship is not entirely out of place). "That will create a lot of space, but on the other hand you need many more tanks. You need more waste-water tanks, more fresh-water tanks and a lot more garbage-holding areas. That and other technical space has taken over from the machinery. It also requires far more electric power than the original boat. You need air conditioning that you didn't have before for example.
"We are used to designing luxury cruise liners, with all the modern amenities, so this was a completely different way of thinking."
No need for speed
It would be quite feasible to have Titanic II travel faster than the original, but the design scope was to maintain the same time schedules as Titanic. So the ship's speed was set at 23 knots in service.
Kanerva explains that the exact design is still under consideration but gives some tantalising glimpses of the sort of detail we can expect. "The aft ship configuration is still under development and one essential step will be model testing of the triple pod configuration," he says. "There are a few important design criteria that need to be taken into account in the design development of the underwater hull form and propulsion configuration: manoeuvrability, energy efficiency, noise and vibration, sea-keeping and operation in harbours. We will do our utmost to combine the modern underwater hull form into an authentic stern shape of the visible stern.
"The modern bridge will be the functional bridge with modern navigation, communication and safety systems. The old bridge will be for passengers and cannot be functional due to safety reasons. There will be replica and modern anchors, whether they could be combined is not yet decided. The requirement of positioning anchors is different today than on the original Titanic."
As you would expect, Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations are being robustly followed in the design, with particular attention to the lifeboats. The lifeboats will have a capacity for 2,700 in the case of an evacuation. "SOLAS actually allows boats to be covered," Kanerva says. "This has been made for a few designs already and the North Atlantic is not always an easy voyage, but the technical solutions are still pending.
"Hiding of the new lifeboats is an option and we are studying the technical solutions. No final decision is yet made. On the other hand lifeboats on this vessel are very high-profile and it might be of importance to have them visible."
One discussion among enthusiasts has been whether the new liner will have the sheer associated with traditional transatlantic ships. When ships were much smaller than they are today, their decks were curved upward toward the front and back of the ship, or sheer. The decks were also cambered, that is, curved higher in the centre of the ship, and lower at either side, as another means of draining the decks of seawater that was constantly washing over them.
"Sheer unfortunately makes the construction very complicated and introduction of sheer everywhere is not really feasible, however it might be included in some open decks," Kanerva says.
The original ship's life was short-lived but modern safety regulations make a repeat unlikely. Palmer insists that Titanic II will be the safest cruise ship in the world but, when asked if it would be unsinkable, he says: "it's very cavalier to say that. I think people have said that in the past and lived to regret it."