Australian billionaire on mission to recreate Titanic

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Brisbane

media captionClive Palmer gives the BBC a look at the plans for Titanic 2

When British impresario Lord Grade was asked what he thought about losing $40m making the movie: "Raise The Titanic", he reportedly quipped: "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic".

Clive Palmer is a man whose wealth is so great that lowering the Atlantic would probably bring as much financial hardship as emptying the contents of his bath.

He is a billionaire, several times over. But he does not want to dally with ocean levels or, indeed, raise the Titanic.

Instead, he wants to build a replica of the great ocean liner.

"It will be 98% the same," says Mr Palmer. "The only difference will be an extra deck, to give the bridge greater visibility over the bow, which the original didn't have - very much to its cost."

Titanic II, as it is to be called, will also be 4m wider, to meet international safety standards on stability.

Apart from that it will be virtually identical to the original, with a few minor concessions to modernity, and it will have "more than enough" lifeboats.

"In fact all the life boats will have been tested by the oil industry and can survive in an open ocean with their hooded canopies and navigation equipment," he says.

"We will also have replica lifeboats, just like the Titanic's originals, but they'll largely be for show".

Historical reality

At his golf-club in Brisbane, Mr Palmer clears several tables so he can roll out the plans for Titanic II - all 3m of them.

image captionThe ship will be "98%" like the original and will have more lifeboats

"We've obtained copies of the actual original plans," he says, with evident pride.

The drawings are the same as the ones the ship's designers must have pored over in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the months and years before the Titanic's launch in 1911.

It is only when you look close up at the original plans that you get a shot of authentic historical reality.

"It's incredible that no one has done this before. In the past, others have put forward plans for gigantic cruise ships masquerading as a replica Titanic," says Mr Palmer.

"They would never have worked, as they weren't identical to the original in size, or spirit. Mine will be."

He is reluctant to put an overall cost on his venture, but it is unlikely to threaten his fortune, estimated to lie between A$8-15bn ($8.4-15.7bn, £5.2bn-9.9bn), amassed first through real estate and then in extensive mining interests.

"We've already had 45,000 people expressing an interest in travelling on Titanic II," he says.

Pay homage

A design team is at work in Europe and a Chinese ship yard that Clive Palmer uses to build his merchant vessels is being readied to take on the construction.

The vessel will have three passenger classes, like the original.

"If you want to travel third class, share a room, eat potatoes and stew and dance an Irish jig, you'll be able to," he says.

The cabins will also be near-replicas, though with some additions such as air-conditioning and the internet.

Each cabin will also have a little wooden cabinet. "In each one, there'll be a photo of the person who sailed in that cabin on the Titanic. It also tells you whether they lived or died," he says.

But he says care is being taken not to Disney-fy the experience.

"It is a replica, to give people the chance to live through what the ship was intended for, not to become a fairground ride."

It begs another question - why does he want to build a replica of the Titanic?

"Because I can," comes the reply. He sees it as "paying homage to the men and women who built her and to those who lost their lives sailing on her".

'Larger than life'

Others have already alluded to Clive Palmer's fondness for bombast.

He is believed to have political ambitions and his tell-it-like-it-is speeches attract widespread coverage in Australia for their capacity to upset establishment figures.

In print his comments can read like Titanic-sized exaggeration, but in person his passion is infectious and compelling.

image captionThe vessel will be faithfully recreated down to minor details, Mr Palmer says

Paul Syvret, the associate editor of Brisbane's Courier Mail who has covered Clive Palmer for years, describes him as "larger than life".

"He's a hero to many people here, embodying Queensland's frontier mentality. He's a maverick who likes to do ambitious things."

But he is not sure whether Mr Palmer's project will come to fruition.

"The short answer is, we don't really know if he's going to build the Titanic. We're still coming to terms with his claim [made in March] that the CIA is backing green groups in a bid to kill the Australian coal mining industry."

Clive Palmer later distanced himself from his own comments, but the story dovetails with the view of some cynics - that he is adept at hoisting flags up poles, only to run them down later, sheepishly and quietly, when the cameras have been switched off.

"Look," says Paul Syvret, "When it comes to the Titanic, he's Clive Palmer and he might just do it."

The man himself appears to have no doubts, insisting Titanic II will be launched in 2016, with Titanics III and IV possibly to follow.

This charming mining magnate may be attracting a lot of doubters over what may be the most extravagant voyage of maritime nostalgia ever embarked on but, at 58, he sees it in much more manageable terms.

"Most people of my age and means either want to retire or build a boat. I'm going to build a boat.

More on this story