A multimillionaire Australian mining tycoon is building a replica of the famed Titanic ocean liner and enlisted a former Canadian prime minister to help him launch his venture at a downtown Halifax hotel.
It was a curious event on Friday morning, attended by Kim Campbell, who was prime minister briefly after taking over the Conservative reins from Brian Mulroney and then losing the election in 1993, and about 100 other guests – many of whom are Titanic-philes.
Clive Palmer, however, the mogul from Down Under and chairman of Blue Star Line, the company building the ship, was not there. His people would not say where he was, citing "security reasons," adding a little more intrigue to the story.
This early-morning breakfast – the menu was inspired by a first-class breakfast on the doomed ship – is one of five global events staged to unveil Mr. Palmer's plans to build and launch the Titanic II on its maiden voyage in 2016. Part of that voyage will replicate the journey the original Titanic was making – from Southampton, England, to New York City – when it sank on April 14, 1912.
Halifax was chosen as a venue for the Canadian launch because of its strong ties to the disaster. A hundred and fifty Titanic victims are buried here.
About 600 people attended a black-tie event on the USS Intrepid retired aircraft carrier in New York City to announce the plan on Feb. 26. On Saturday, March 2, Mr. Palmer and his Blue Star team will be in London, England, for a gala dinner near the dinosaur display at the Natural History Museum.
"We will complete the journey," Mr. Palmer said enthusiastically in a video message played to the breakfast crowd. "Titanic represents the spirit of man, the spirit of love, the hope that all men have for peace on earth in our time."
He added, "The Titanic was the ship of the dreams. Titanic II is the ship where dreams will come true."
He hopes. This is a commercial enterprise with Mr. Palmer paying the full cost of the ship. He is counting on the bankability of the Titanic legend and its enduring mystique. Some media are reporting that Titanic II will cost half a billion dollars, but James McDonald, the young Australian who is global marketing director for Titanic II, would not reveal the cost to reporters.
Construction has not begun. The ship is to be built in China, which already constructs large commercial vessels, but has not broken into the luxury cruise liner business. Most cruise ships are built in Europe; China produces about 3 per cent of passenger ships.
"It's a real opportunity for China to get on the global stage in terms of passenger liners and luxury cruise lines, it's a great opportunity for them," Mr. McDonald said, noting that Mr. Palmer is building four other ships – bulk carriers – in China.
Titanic II was designed by a Finnish naval architectural firm and although it would be three inches longer than the original, it will be as authentic as possible. Like the original, it is to have the Turkish baths, grand staircase, smoking room, and two "millionaire suites" on the B Deck.
The maiden voyage will sail from China to Southampton and then on to New York.
Passengers will be supplied a wardrobe from the time period of the original ship, right down to the underwear, Mr. Palmer explained in his video.
The hope is that the ship will eventually cruise the world, including coming to port in Halifax.
Ms. Campbell, meanwhile, who now lives in Manhattan and France with her husband, concert pianist and playwright Hershey Felder, met Mr. Palmer several years ago at a philanthropy conference in Singapore. Since then, they have been involved in the creation of the World Leadership Alliance, in which former political leaders and global business leaders will collaborate to help tackle world issues.
Ms. Campbell attended the gala in New York City and "because I'm Canadian, they invited me to come to the Halifax breakfast – and a trip to Halifax, what a great opportunity, so I said, 'Sure, I would be happy to come.'"
She delivered for Mr. Palmer, posing for pictures with the guests and signing a few autographs.
Ms. Campbell, who describes herself as "deeply Canadian," has lived abroad for nearly 20 years since she left Ottawa. She said she keeps up on Canadian politics, but wouldn't comment on the current situation.
"What I've learned from being on the other side is I can't always trust everything I read in the papers," she said.