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Memorial cruise ship retraces ill-fated Titanic's journey

posted 8 Apr 2012, 14:04 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Apr 2012, 14:05 ]

More than 1,300 cruise passengers set sail from Southampton, England to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Relatives of survivors and those who perished on the Titanic were among more than 1,300 passengers on a memorial cruise ship which departed Southampton, southern England on Sunday (April 8), retracing the doomed liner's original route.
On board is Philip Littlejohn whose grandfather Alexander was a 1st Class Steward. He only survived after being ordered to row Lifeboat 13, which also contained the youngest passenger on the Titanic, nine week old Millvina Dean and her mother. Philip Littlejohn said his grandfather was haunted by the devastating loss of life and never came to terms with having survived when so many did not.

"I did know my grandfather but I was only 5 years old at the time. But it wouldn't have made any difference if I was 55 because he never talked about it. There was a certain amount of guilt amongst male survivors that they had survived when women and children had gone down."

Philip Littlejohn is one of ten specialist lecturers aboard the memorial cruise, and is the only Titanic relative to have made the dive to the wreck site.

Robert Burr's grandfather was also a 1st Class Saloon Steward, but the 28-year-old father-of-one drowned after selflessly giving up his life-jacket to a young woman.

"My late grandfather's name was Ewart Sydenham-Burr. He was a 1st Class Saloon Steward on the Titanic, and we got letters from the family that he was on Five Table serving the Countess of Rossess (Sic), and she was a very young lady and we were thinking that we were going to have a very good show, and unfortunately he lost his life on the Titanic, and in the family, on both sides of her family, it mentions that - we've been told - that he gave his life-jacket up to a young lady, and lost his life."

The centenary cruise to mark 100 years since the world's then largest and fastest passenger liner sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic is one of the flagship events of the special anniversary commemorations that are taking place around the world.

The MS Balmoral is carrying 1,309 paying passengers - the same number that departed Southampton aboard Titanic on April 10, 1912. Despite being a modern cruise ship, the slower Balmoral is leaving port two days earlier than the Titanic in order to reach the exact spot where the great ship went down during the early hours of April 15, 1912.

The organisers have gone to extraordinary lengths to recreate the atmosphere of Titanic's fateful voyage, ranging from menus based on the dishes served in April 1912 to a live band playing music from the era. The highlight of the cruise will be a special memorial ceremony over the spot where the Titanic sank. The service will begin 20 minutes before midnight of April 14 and closing almost four hours later at 02.20am on April 15, marking the moment when the supposedly unsinkable ship finally succumbed to the icy depths, taking 1,514 lives.

Retired teacher, author and co-founder of the International Titanic Society Charles Haas, is one of the world's leading experts on the Titanic and will be lecturing on board the Balmoral, which he told a press conference in Southampton hours before the ship weighed anchor, was "the equivalent of a floating university on the subject of Titanic."

Most of the passengers are history and Titanic enthusiasts from more than 20 countries around the globe who have paid between £2,595 and £7,995 to be part of this unique heritage voyage.

Canadian Tylicia Tchelebon told Reuters Television that she and her companion, Meyer Tchelebon, felt compassion for the children and animals who did not survive the voyage on the supposedly unsinkable ship.

"My reason for going is because the adults thought the Titanic was unsinkable basically, and when it sank they decided to stay on board. And I'm going mainly for the children and the animals that were on board because imagine how horrific it was," she said.

Maritime artist, James Flood from Florida, will spend the 12-day cruise painting the Titanic, which he described as the most "beautiful ship of its time."

"Well, what they want me to do is set up my easel and paint a painting of the Titanic, and so the passengers will watch the progress each day as I paint the ship. The painting that will result will be totally unique because it's being painted on the anniversary at the site of the sinking," he said.

The finished painting will be auctioned off.

Honeymooners, Mary-Beth Crocker and Tom Dearing from Kentucky got married last October, but were prepared to wait six more months before taking their very "special honeymoon."

"We've had an interest in the Titanic for a really long time. We live in a historic district in the Midwest and we love historic preservation, history, costume history, you know all sorts of things like that. So that was one of the main reasons why we came. We also wanted an adventure," said Mary-Beth Crocker.

The MD Balmoral is operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines whose parent company Harland and Wolff built the Titanic. The ship has been charted by British specialist travel agency, Miles Morgan Travel. Managing director, Miles Morgan fended off critics' claims that the cruise was exploiting the memory of the dead.

"Yes a lot of people have raised that question with us but basically I take my lead on the descendants that we've got booked aboard. For an awful lot of those people I've spoken to the cruise is absolutely the perfect way for them to commemorate their loved ones who passed away from 100 years ago," said Miles Morgan.

From Southampton, the Balmoral will bear south-west, sailing close to the French Cherbourg Peninsula before turning westwards to Cobh in Ireland where the ship will dock, mirroring the Titanic's final port of call on April 11, 1912. From Ireland the cruise liner will head out into the open seas of the Atlantic.

The voyage is one of two memorial cruises. The other is setting sail from New York, Titanic's intended destination. The two ships will meet over the site of Titanic's watery grave for the joint memorial service.