According to numerous reports, Clive Palmer, one of Australia's richest men, whose wealth is estimated at £3bn ($5 billion U.S.), has signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese state-owned company, CSC Jinling Shipyard, to build the ship, with construction due to start at the end of next year. The cost has not been disclosed, nor have proposed itineraries for the ship, although the maiden voyage will be from Britain to New York in 2016, with Titanic II being accompanied by a Chinese navy escort.
Titanic II is to be as close a replica to the original as possible, even keeping the same dimensions and measuring just 40,000 tons (roughly the same as the original). Given that Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the only ship currently offering a regularly scheduled service across the north Atlantic, measures 151,400 tons, Titanic II will be small by today's standards.
The new ship is being designed with the assistance of a historical research team who have reportedly been instructed to maintain historical accuracy while integrating selective modernisations in design, technologies and navigation. Swimming pools, libraries, high-end restaurants and 840 luxury cabins mimicking the design of the Titanic era are all part of the proposed plans. However, some of the suggested modernisations seem questionable when compared to standard ship design principles. The four funnels on Titanic II, for example, will be purely decorative and, in addition to an Internet cafe, will house a restaurant and theatre -- a feature normally housed low down in a ship for reasons of stability in rough seas.
In another odd twist, the area that the coal boilers would have occupied on the original Titanic will be used as an exhibition room to showcase the Australian territory of Queensland (where Palmer has several tourism business interests).
The passenger space ratio -- a formula that divides the tonnage of the ship by the number of berths to provide an index of how much space each passenger would have -- is also likely to raise eyebrows. Titanic II's 40,000 gross tons divided by a passenger capacity of 1,680 produces a space ratio of 23.8, the kind of space you would expect on the most basic of ships today. Queen Mary 2's passenger space ratio, in comparison, is 57.78.
Titanic II will sail under a newly created company, Blue Star Line, presumably a play on the original ship's owner, White Star Line, and will be the first of several ships. It is important to note, though, that a memorandum of understanding, the current arrangement with the shipyard, is not a firm order for the ship to be built.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Palmer's dramatic announcement came on the same day that he revealed plans to contest the next federal election in Queensland. Skeptics in the Australian media, who are used to his flamboyant style, are predicting that both ideas will end up on the rocks.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor