Is Cunard Moving Out of the U.K. to 'Cash In' on Weddings at Sea?

September 27, 2011

(7:45 a.m. EDT) -- Speculation has been widespread in the British media that Cunard could be considering the possibility of re-registering its three ships outside the U.K. The prevailing theory is that the line would be flying the flags of either Malta or Bermuda and changing the word ‘Southampton' that's emblazoned on the hull of each vessel to either ‘Valletta' or ‘Hamilton'.
Being registered, or flagged, in the U.K. means that Cunard is losing out on the lucrative business of weddings at sea. U.K. law, which governs the three Cunard ships, states that couples can only say ‘I do' when the ship is in port and the service is conducted by a minister or other notary -– a less romantic proposition than exchanging vows mid-ocean. On the other hand, on ships registered in Bermuda or Malta, which include the fleets of Cunard's sister lines, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises, couples can tie the knot at a service officiated by the captain, no matter where the ship is sailing.
Peter Shanks, Cunard's president and managing director, is not denying the rumour. In a statement provided to Cruise Critic, Shanks said, "It's no secret that weddings at sea are now very big business. We know there is a pent-up demand, as we receive many enquiries, especially about marriages on transatlantic crossings which no other line can offer. However, this business is currently denied to us as our fleet is registered in the U.K., and we have for some time been examining our options."
These options include, Shanks continued, simply keeping the ships registered in Southampton; creating one ‘wedding ship' with Bermudan or Maltese registry; or changing the registration of all three of the line's ships. "I must stress that at present no decision has been made," he said.
There could also be a less romantic advantage to Cunard flagging its ships outside the U.K. involving a change in European law. The enactment of Britain's Equality Act 2010 requires that staff who hail from countries in the European Union be paid wages equal to those of British citizens when working on British-registered ships. And, while other lines tend to use more crew from countries outside of Europe in order to save on cost, many of the dining room and bartending staff currently employed by Cunard are Europeans. This, of course, means that Cunard's wage bill could be on the increase following the change in law.
If the move does go ahead, it will be the first time in Cunard's 171-year history that all of its ships have been registered outside Britain, though the fleet would continue to be based at Southampton.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor