On the 8th of April 2012, the MS Balmoral left Southampton docks carrying a total of 1,309 passengers. For ten days the ship has been following a very specific route, visiting Cherbough, France and Cobh, Southern Ireland before finally reaching its cross Atlantic destination-New York. Although cruise liner journeys of such magnitude are common practice in 2012, on this particular voyage MS Balmoral will carry a much greater significance. Stopping on the 15th April at exactly 2.20am GMT, the cruise ship will be marking what is known to be the greatest recorded maritime disaster of all time-the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Titanic.
For many, the prospect of mimicking the ship’s ghostly voyage may seem more than a little macabre. Setting sail in 1912, the Titanic was the largest and most luxurious cruise ship of its time, carrying 1309 passengers, 885 crew members, a swimming pool and a gymnasium.
In a turn of events which proved to be fateful for the “unsinkable ship”, the Titanic received a starboard blow by iceberg ripping a tear in the side of the ship. At a location approximately 375 miles south of Newfoundland the ship filled with water, split in two and sank to the ocean floor, carrying with it 1514 people.
What perhaps makes the tragic tale of the Titanic distinct from other disasters of a similar nature is the longevity of the story and the variety of different ways in which people have chosen to remember it. Indeed, the sailing of the tribute cruise MS Balmoral is not the first, nor likely will it be the last, unusual tribute to the submerged liner.
In the course of the last 100 years no less than six Titanic based films have been released. The first was entitled “Saved from the Titanic”, starring survivor Dorothy Gibson purportedly wearing the same dress she was rescued in. The movie was followed by 1958’s A Night to Remember, widely regarded as the most accurate movie portrayal of the sinking, and James Cameron block buster hit Titanic released in 1997. The recipient of 11 Oscars, Titanic is now gracing silver screens once more, allowing viewers to enjoy the Jack and Rose love story in an (perhaps unnecessarily) intimate 3D experience.
In Belfast, the home of Harland and Wolff shipping and the birthplace of the Titanic, interest in the ill-fated ship has led to the construction of a £77 million visitor attraction. Located 100 yards from the ships building site, Titanic Belfast takes the form of a 38.5 metre high visitor centre and boasts impressive CGI technology, a replica grand staircase and a shipyard ride. Belfast Harbour will also be hosting an MTV memorial concert, including performances by Bryan Ferry and Katie Melua and a digital projection light show.
Closer to home, remembrance of the Titanic took a bizarre twist recently with a local Dunfermline primary school staging a musical performance of the Titanic story. Perhaps surprisingly, this school will not be the only group paying musical tribute to the ship as the Atlantic Theatre Company perform Titanic-The Musical at the open air Cornwall Minack Theatre. The cast will perform key moments in the show at exactly the same time they occurred at sea a century ago, adding a grim twist to the performance.
From this unusual range of tributes it is clear the story of the Titanic- its opulence, tragic sinking and resulting myths, have captivated people worldwide. Why have people continued to care about the story of the Titanic? Perhaps it is the shear scale and horror of the sinking or possibly because of the buzz created by the many resulting tales of heroism and cowardice. Whatever the cause may be, it is clear that the Titanic has left a lasting legacy in Britain, with many as eager to hear the story as those who crowded the New York docks 100 years ago.