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Tempting fate: Australian billionaire to build “Titanic II”

Titanic IIThe 100 year anniversary of Titanic’s maiden voyage and tragic sinking has brought about all manner of tribute — from the theatrical re-release of James Cameron’s hormonal ode to adolescence to Groupon’s deep-sea exploration deal of the day. None however, could hope to match the audacity of Australian billionaire Clive Palmer: He has declared his intentions to build a replica of the massive ocean liner and christen it “Titanic II.”

Palmer, who made his billions in the mining business and was recently declared a “National Living Treasure of Australia,” signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Chinese state-owned shipbuilding company CSC Jinling Shipyard to resurrect the doomed ship in 21st century style, according to The Guardian. “It will be every bit as luxurious as the original Titanic but of course it will have state-of-the-art 21st-century technology and the latest navigation and safety systems,” Palmer said in a press conference on Monday.

The boat will be a tribute to the men and women who built the original. As Palmer stated “These people produced work that is still marveled at more than 100 years later and we want that spirit to go on for another 100 years.”

Although it is rare given modern technological advancements such as the European Space Agency’s Polar View satellite imagery, even today ships hit icebergs as the Titanic did a century ago. On November 23, 2007, the MV Explorer’s 154 passengers were forced to abandon ship when an iceberg tore a 10-inch gash in its hull off the coast of Antarctica. When asked if Titanic II would meet the same fate as the original vessel, Palmer responded “Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it.” He then quite ominously added “Of course, if you are superstitious … you never know what could happen.” Even though hitting an iceberg outright is much less likely today than it was in 1912, the possibility that a tsunami might hurl an iceberg at the newly minted ship is well documented.

As far as cost is concerned, Palmer was conspicuously mum. Given calculations using the US Department of Labor’s Inflation tool, the $7.5 million US dollars Titanic cost to build in 1912 would be roughly equivalent to $174 million today. Considering Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships cost around $1.5 billion to build and are the largest in the world, it would seem that Titanic was a relative steal, and that the new ship will likely cost many times that. Palmer’s fortune is estimated at between $3-6 billion.

Of course there is always the possibility that the announcement is a publicity stunt plain and simple: Palmer also declared himself a candidate for Australian Parliament in a separate press conference earlier Monday. He has also been courting the Chinese in recent years, likely for rights to mine there due to China’s abundant natural resources and lax environmental regulations — outsourcing the proposed ship’s building to the Chinese could be more political maneuvering for business purposes.

The original Titanic’s enduring tragedy was that of man’s hubris — technology has brought us a long way in the past 100 years to make the world a better, more interconnected place. But faced with the vastness of the ocean, even technology has its limits; here’s to hoping that if Palmer is truly serious about this, he has learned a lesson from the first Titanic — one that doesn’t involve icebergs.

Titanic II’s maiden voyage is planned for 2016 and will follow the original Titanic’s course from England to New York.

Image Credit: Thick Moustache