Cruisin' for a bruisin': The second coming of the Titanic may be two too many

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We would have thought the cruise-line industry already provided enough unscripted excitement for its passengers.

The Carnival Triumph was just hauled into port, in Mobile, Ala., after an engine-room fire took out the electricity, running water and AC, leaving some 4,000 sweltering passengers to drift aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico while a tow was arranged.

Thanks to modern communications like the cellphone, we learned about raw sewage running down the walls of the lower cabins and hour-long waits to get an onion sandwich.

There was, mercifully, no loss of life, only a lot of really grungy passengers who got free bathrobes and other amenities for their suffering.

A year ago January, the captain of the Costa Concordia, with more than 4,000 aboard, took an unscheduled detour off the coast of Italy and ran aground. Most, but not all, of the passengers were rescued, and the great ship remains stuck.

With all this maritime excitement readily available to the average fun-seeker, it seems a tad excessive for yet another entry into that category of travel known as "Sea Voyages Gone Bad."

Yet an Australian mining billionaire plans to re-create the ship that was the subject of perhaps the world's best-known tragedy at sea, Titanic, the great vessel that in April 1912 hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank in the North Atlantic, a disaster that has never lost its hold on the public imagination. More than 1,500 people died in the sinking.

The original Titanic was deemed by the press of the day as "unsinkable" -- not a claim that is being made for Titanic II, according to news reports.

Financial backer Clive Palmer, speaking to reporters, said with unassailable logic, "I think anything will sink if you put a hole in it."

The designer of Titanic II called the planned vessel "the most safe cruise ship in the world," not totally reassuring in view of recent events.

Titanic II will be almost exactly the same dimensions as the original, although with a modern propulsion system and, one would hope, better sewage and ventilation than the current state of the art in cruise ships.

The ship reportedly will be built by the CSC Jinling Shipyard in China, where presumably they have higher standards than the Chinese food-safety and school-construction industries.

When completed, the ship will sail to Southampton, England, to re-create the voyage to New York that the original Titanic never completed.

The passengers, according to reports, will be provided with period clothing and the ship will have three classes, with Palmer electing to travel third class like Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Jack Dawson, did in the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic." Just like the movie, the lower classes will be restricted in their movements. Once in steerage, you stay in steerage, although in this more enlightened age they'll let you out if the ship starts to sink.

The original Titanic carried about 2,200 passengers and crew but had only enough lifeboats for about half of them. Titanic II reportedly will have 2,435 passengers and 900 crew, plus lifeboats and rafts with a capacity for 3,500. Clearly, they're not going to make the same mistake twice.

The sailing date is sometime in 2016, and, Mr. Palmer tells the press, 40,000 have registered for tickets and 16 have offered between $750,000 and $1 million to be on the maiden voyage.

Mr. Palmer may have discovered a market for re-creating doomed voyages, but without the disaster element. A trans-Atlantic flight on the Hindenburg, anyone?

opinion_commentary

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.


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