Titanic 2: Mixed reaction at Southampton launch event

By Stephen Stafford
BBC News, Southampton

media captionThe plan is for Titanic 2 to sail from Southampton in 2016

The building of a replica of the ill-fated Titanic has received a mixed reaction at a launch event in Southampton.

The man behind the project, Clive Palmer, was absent from the event in the building which was formerly the Southern Western Hotel.

But invited local guests watched a video presentation as they ate a breakfast based on Titanic's menu - featuring soda and sultana scones, Parma ham and lamb collops.

Briefings about Titanic 2 plans have already been held around the world, but this is surely the most emotive location.

Just a few hundred metres away is the quayside from where the original Titanic slipped its moorings for its maiden voyage in April 1912.

The hotel was where many of the first-class passengers stayed before embarking.

Mr Palmer, an Australian mining billionaire, is not short of either cash or slogans.

He promises "a ship where dreams will come true", "a class above any ship in the world", to "rebuild a legend" and to "set sail on our own sea".

He laid out the plans for a faithful copy of the Belfast-built original to be constructed in a Chinese shipyard.

It is being constructed at a shipyard in China. Work is due to start in the next few months.

'Irish jig'

Mr Palmer said 40,000 people had already registered for tickets on the first voyage, which will "complete the journey" of those who left Southampton in 1912.

image captionClive Palmer made his fortune in mining

More than 540 people from the city were among the 1,517 who perished when the liner hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic.

The Titanic 2 brochure promises an "authentic Titanic experience" with the ship including the grand staircase, reading room and Turkish bath.

Key differences from the original include air conditioning, a hospital, helicopter landing pad - and most notably, a modern quota of lifeboats.

As with the original, there will be first, second and third classes of passenger and they will not be allowed to mingle. Ticket prices are yet to be revealed.

Mr Palmer he insists he will travel in third class for "the human experience".

"To have a bit of Irish stew, to grab a fiddle and a drum and do an Irish jig - what more could a man want than that?" he said.

The scale of the loss in Southampton was felt for generations and families with Titanic connections have mixed feelings about the plans for a recreation.

'Painful stories'

Dave Fredericks, whose great-grandfather Walter survived the disaster, said he was "not convinced".

"It was a maritime disaster which affected this city and although there are no survivors left, there are stories passed down and those are quite painful.

"Dressing up as characters who perished is distasteful."

image captionDave Fredericks and Mary South had ancestors on Titanic

However, Mary South, whose grandfather, a first-class steward, died in the disaster, admitted she was "warming" to Titanic 2.

"With the centenary everything was a bit raw in Southampton, but now I'm beginning to think it would be nice to hark back to see what travelling was really like at that time.

"The thought of seeing such an iconic silhouette back in Southampton will be quite something."

There is undoubtedly enduring interest in the Titanic story - Belfast and Southampton both opened museums dedicated to the liner during the centenary year.

For council leader Richard Williams the project is "really exciting" and a chance to raise Southampton's profile.

"It keeps the focus on the city in a world market and that's really important for the cruise industry but also the wider economy.

"I hope the way it develops is respectful to the memory of the people from the city who were lost.

"There is still that personal feeling of loss here - it's important there is a balance there."

Mr Palmer dismisses accusations the project is in bad taste.

"It's in good taste - I respect all those people who were lost, they are still contributing today to an ideal.

"We will take up the torch and we will complete the journey," he said.

There may still be scepticism and questions over taste, but if the distinctive four funnels of Titanic 2 steam out of Southampton Water in 2016 as planned, the world will certainly be watching.

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