MACAU — If there’s one thing you can say for it, Titanic II does not lack audacity.
The brainchild of eccentric Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, Titanic II aims to precisely replicate the experience of the doomed liner for a 21st century clientele — minus the iceberg.
It will have the same ornate staircase, the same Turkish baths, the same smoking rooms, and even the same "Marconi room," where the Titanic sent out its final SOS. Passengers will even be provided with early-20th-century-style clothes and undergarments in their cabins. The safety equipment will be up-to-date, however, and will include more than enough lifeboats and inflatable rafts for the 2,400 passengers and 900 crew.
It's as if a dirigible company sold tickets for a new and improved Hindenburg.
At a lavish gala and press conference in the Chinese gambling mecca of Macau, Palmer rolled out his vision for Titanic II in a pre-recorded speech filled with non sequiturs and allusions to the movie Titanic.
“Why build the Titanic? Why go to the moon? … Why did Hong Kong and Macau stand up and become part of China? Because they could. And they can. And we can build the Titanic,” he explained.
“As James Cameron reminds us, my heart will go on. All of us have gone on in love. In the love we have for each other, and the love that goes into our children. Our love goes out to the families of the Titanic.”
Apart from safety features and the number of lifeboats, Titanic II will differ from its predecessor in another crucial way: It will be made in China. Palmer has hired CSC Jinling, a state-owned shipyard with no experience building luxury passenger ships, to construct the Titanic II. When completed in 2016, the vessel is expected to launch from Shanghai, and proceed eventually to Southampton, UK to "complete" the Titanic's voyage to New York City.
Asked if this was an attempt to rewrite history, Blue Star representative Andrew Crook said, “I just think it’s a tribute to the people of 100 years ago.”
CSC Jinling’s involvement is intended to mark China's entry into the luxury passenger liner market. “Titanic II will be the start of a massive Chinese challenge to the European luxury shipbuilders,” said Raymond Tam, operations director of Blue Star Line.
Biao Ge, director of CSC Jinling, admitted it would not be easy. “For a Chinese shipyard, it is difficult to build Titanic II, but we have confidence to build it,” he said in translated remarks.
The movie "Titanic" was a touchstone throughout the gala. Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was played at least four times, including renditions by a South Korean YouTube sensation and an all-female string quartet. Guests were invited to stand behind a fake ship's prow and take photos like Jack and Rose.
The dinner recreated the 11-course meal served in first-class on the Titanic, ranging from Scottish salmon with mousseline sauce to Aberdeen Angus filet mignon. Chinese VIPs and diplomatic guests were regaled with scenes from a Titanic musical featuring the lines, "It's unthinkable/ We're unsinkable." Half a dozen people have already said they would pay $1 million to ride on the maiden voyage, according to Blue Star Line.
The choice of China as a central player in the launch of Titanic II was no accident. Chinese interest in the Titanic has surged since the re-release of James Cameron’s Titanic in China last year, which broke box-office records, earning $67 million in its first weekend.
“We wouldn’t come here if there wasn’t interest here,” said James McDonald, Blue Star marketing director, when asked about the Chinese market for the cruise.
Titanic II will be full of branding and co-sponsoring opportunities. Companies can pay to have their logos hoisted on the Titanic II flagpoles, or to have their name attached to a room or facility. Marketing materials urge potential sponsors to “have your ‘king of the world’ photographs on the bow of the ship with your logo on every image.” Anticipating possible future demand, Blue Star Line holds priority trademark applications for Titanic III, as well as Gigantic, one of the original Titanic’s sister ships.
If the prospect of a Philip Morris smoking lounge or a Facebook poop deck seems in poor taste, then Titanic II might not be for you.
Several guests at the gala said they felt the associations with the Titanic name were a touch macabre. Not to mention the fact that there was another ship dubbed the Titanic 2 that didn't make it out of an English harbor in 2011.
“I’m not sure I would take Titanic,” said Yan Qiang, a young woman from Nanjing. “A lot of people say it is bad luck.”
Kevin Chung, a guest from Hong Kong, agreed that adopting the name of a ship that claimed the lives of 1,500 people might turn people off. “For Chinese people, when they hear Titanic, they think of negative things."
But to Clive Palmer, the Titanic is apparently not a symbol of tragedy or hubris, as it is to much of the world, but a symbol of something else entirely.
“Titanic represents the spirit of man," he said, "the spirit of love, the hope that all men have for peace on earth in our time, and good will to all men."