ROLLING STONE: Billionaire Says His Long-Delayed ‘Titanic II’ Ship Will Be Antidote to ‘Woke’ Politics

SOURCE: Rolling Stone

Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer has been pitching the replica for more than a decade.

IT SEEMS REASONABLE to expect that just about anything can and will go wrong with a full-size replica of a cruise ship that famously sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 people aboard. But Titanic II, Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer’s proposed heir to the original RMS Titanic, hasn’t faced a disaster so far — because over the decade and change that Palmer has been pitching it, nothing has been built.

First announced in 2012 for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic‘s fateful voyage, Palmer envisions the Titanic II, operated by his company Blue Star Line, as a historically accurate tribute to its namesake, right down to the cramped steerage cabins. Of course, there will be some tweaks to ensure it reaches its destination this time: Palmer wants the ship to have cutting-edge navigation equipment, safety systems, and plenty of lifeboats. Throughout the many snags in the project — including payment disputes and scrapped plans to build in a Chinese shipyard — very little of this core idea has changed, with Palmer brushing off skeptics by reminding them that he has the money and determination to see it through.

What has changed somewhat is how Palmer, who in the past decade has served in Australian parliament and chaired a right-wing political party he founded, describes the symbolism of the Titanic(s). In a March 13 press conference at the Sydney Opera House to announce his recommitment to reconstructing the doomed ocean liner, Palmer said it would be a beacon of hope amid war in Ukraine and Gaza, bring people together after the era of Covid lockdowns, and embody traditional values as opposed to “woke” politics. Here, he talks with Rolling Stone about what he thinks Titanic II crossing the Atlantic into New York Habor would mean to the world.

This has been in the works for a long time, but how did you originally get interested in the Titanic?
It’s very topical. I originally got interested because we know how to make war — see what’s happening in Ukraine and Gaza. It’s much more difficult to make peace in the world. And the Titanic is an international symbol. It’s a symbol of love and peace, really. I mean, the movie, everyone knows the Jack and Rose story. All of us have a Jack and Rose story of our own. So I thought it’d be good to do something to promote those aspects in life. Secondly, we need to remember the people of the Titanic, and some of the values that we question in society today disappearing, such as courage and self-sacrifice. You remember the musicians on the Titanic that stood there at their station, playing “Nearer My God to Thee”? They were more concerned about the people that were with than themselves. We’re running our culture into a self-centered society, so we want to refocus on those things. We thought we could design the whole ship and have it ready in three to four years construction. But it took about five to six years to design. Originally, the challenge was much greater because we had to incorporate all the safety provisions and still keep the design of the ship the same — that was a lot harder than we thought. And we know what happened with cruise shipping and Covid, we had to stop and pause and see what was happening, but today shipping has come back. It gives us the time to pull those plans off the shelf and to get the project moving.

With all these delays you had, how did you get back on track?
Well, I’ve got a lot of money. And at my age, at 70, I should try to do something with it that’s positive for the world. But it’s not unusual that people my age build the boat, sail the world, climb a mountain, do something like that. I did promise the people of New York [in 2012], we launched it on the [USS] Intrepid, “One day you’ll be able to say that you were there where it all began.” The Titanic sailed up the Hudson River into New York Harbor, completed the journey. A lot of the original descendants of people who died on the Titanic, some of the best-known names in New York, wanted to buy their tickets and they offered millions of dollars. Surprisingly, we had an enormous number of people wanting to go a third class. One of the big things we found in the plans as we tried to build Titanic was a big square, going down five decks — we didn’t know what it was for, but we discovered a flooring that had one word: “Potatoes.” That was the food store for all the third class: you could have sautéed potatoes, fried potatoes, potatoes, mashed potatoes, but all you had was potatoes in third class. A lot of people saying they wanted tickets at that time were New York stockbrokers stuck in a dingy office all day, talking to other people about nothing, I guess, wanting to get back to some reality, some sort of human nature. Because we will have Irish dancing, we will have one-to-one contact in the cabin, the two of you sharing together and 30 of you sharing a bathroom. That’s part of the experience that part of the Titanic. It’s not the luxury part.

Some billionaires are really focused on the future — space travel, advanced AI. But it sounds like you really want to look to the past.
I want to look to the present and the future. Look, I’m saying these things are important, you know, to touch someone, to give them a hug. Doesn’t matter whether you’re on the moon or you’re going to Mars, right? You still meet people, you still need to respect them. You still need to value that sort of human relationship. I think one of our problems in our society that we don’t value that sense. We want to challenge the whole concept that what’s important is money for the sake of money without any reasonable purpose. Then, of course, we’ve got to remember the Titanic has played an enormous role in safety in shipping. So many people would have perished if those changes weren’t put into place, lifeboats and bulkheads and things like that. So we’ve got to recognize that from a disaster, we learn how we can make our lives better.

Has anyone tried to talk you out of this?
My wife, but that’s purely for selfish reasons, so I’d spend more time with her and the kids. I just think I’ve got the money. I’ve got a limited lifespan. Unlike Rupert Murdoch, I can’t live to 150. I might as well spend the money I’ve got doing something positive. We can certainly fund this without any problems, it’s no strain on me at all. All I’ve got to do is write the check. Well, I want to do more than that. I want to be a bit of an inspiration to people and say, “This is what you can do.” I think it’s a great, a great project, and it’s so popular.

I know you’re not worried about profit, but how much of your own money have you already spent?
We’re allocating at the moment a couple of hundred million dollars. And certainly there’s more available. But you’ve got to remember the Titanic is a 60,000-ton vessel. Well, it was actually 48,000 originally, but one of the problems we had with the Titanic is that you have to make it safe. You’ll remember, in the movie you had the guy in the crow’s nest saying “Iceberg!” That was because from the from the bridge, you couldn’t see over the bow. We can’t do that today. So we had to put a whole new deck in the Titanic. And it’s got a lot of the modern conveniences that you want. We’re going to make sure that in every room there’ll be a little panel that will tell you the history of the person who occupied your cabin. Did they survive, did they prevail? Everyone will get a costume so that they can come up to dinner, and it will be a real experience for them. One of the worst experiences, of course, on the Titanic was delousing. They took the third class up on deck and sprayed them in their underpants and bras. So depending on the weather, we’ll have delousing for our third class, too.

Are you interested in getting any outside financing, or do you just want to be in complete control?
I don’t really want to be in control so much, I’m not that sort of person. But I’ve got too much money. So I don’t need any other money. We don’t need to raise any funds. We don’t need to take mums and dads money, if anyone loses any money, it’s [me], and I’m happy to lose money at this age. We can make instant decisions about what we want to do without worrying about the consequences. We haven’t got to have a committee sits here and says, “Oh, should we do this? What will the SEC say?” It’ll be a Covid vaccine-free environment.

Vaccine-free how?
We won’t have any. We don’t believe people should be compelled. You might be aware of it, but I recently funded a case in Queensland where we had the vaccines declared unlawful because we believe that impeded on individual choice and freedom. And the courts agreed with us as well, the superior court — so it’s the first in the world. That was another controversial thing. [Palmer put $2.5-$3 million toward a successful legal challenge brought by police and ambulance service workers who said they faced disciplinary action up to termination for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate.]

But will vaccinated people be allowed on the ship?
Yeah, we’ve got to extend our hand in love and friendship for people being vaccinated despite the side effects. We have to look after them. And they’re all good people. We’re all the same really, like white, green, yellow, whatever it is — to embrace each other.

This gets to something you said in your recent press conference, which is that the Titanic reflects traditional values instead of “woke” values. So can you explain what that means?
There’s been a concept in society that you can cancel people. I think you know what I mean by “canceled” people, and we think that’s a terrible concept. The United States was founded on the rights of men to be different. The diversity that we’ve had in our economy, in our intellectual development has really meant that’s developed our society to a higher level. I’m talking about Western society in general. So the French Revolution, the American Revolution, all those things were brought about by individuals [claiming] their rights to express an opinion or view. I mean, you should have the right to be wrong.

In that same press conference, it seems like you were also ready to argue with some of the journalists, or that you take issue with people who are skeptical of the project. Do the naysayers get you down?
Doesn’t get me down. I think the press are not relevant to me from that context. A lot of people go out to the press because they want to raise money or public support. You’ve got to admire the journalist, because a journalist’s job is to create a bit of controversy. I don’t need to have any bad feelings towards that, they’re just doing their job. If this was a project where public money was going into it, [there would be] a greater justification for journalists to be skeptical.

There are people who view the Titanic as a symbol of mankind’s hubris. What would you say to that kind of thinking?
It’s up to everybody to decide for themselves, will they buy tickets, where they travel, whether it’s got value to them and their family. People really don’t get a unified position on hardly anything. If you go to a communist regime, we’re supposed to have that, I guess. That might be enforced, not by free will. We want people and journalists to be free. I mean, look at New Zealand, all the television stations there are closing, they’ll maybe have one government service. So it’s getting more and more like a Stalin situation. So that’s not good. [Newshub, one of two free TV news stations in the country, will be shuttered in the coming months by owner Warner Bros. Discovery.] We need to respect and cherish all opinions, and society should benefit by that and get to the right decision. That’s how I look at it. I’m not frightened of controversy.

No, I didn’t get that impression. You’ve said a lot of people are interested in this maiden voyage. Is there anyone you can share who’s expressed an interest? James Cameron, maybe?
He hasn’t expressed an interest, I can tell you that. We previously had the great-granddaughter of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who was on the Titanic and went around rescuing people in the lifeboats — in the first World War, the U.S. Navy christened a ship after her. We’ve had Bruce Ismay, who owned the White Star Line, his great-great grandson wants to be involved in the project and has given us support. It’s a funny project. To go back into the past to appreciate it, to learn from it and realize that diversity is a good thing. And we’re slowly evolving as a race. We don’t necessarily need to go to Mars to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is what we should be working for as a human civilization. That should be our top bar. And hopefully the Titanic will make a lot of people happy.

I understand what you’re saying about wanting this project to be uplifting for the entire world. Has anyone ever made the argument to you that you could be spending this money in ways that more directly benefit people who are poor, unhoused, suffering in war zones?
We do spend money on that. I spend millions of dollars on that — more than I think you do. But one thing that you cannot take from anyone is the human spirit. And in one of these war zones, when you’re down and out, you’re up against it, you need to have a spirit that drives you on, something you’re looking at [that shows] life can get better. That makes life worth living on this planet. The Titanic reinforces some of those values for all the world. Same as human thought, freedom of thought — and things that stimulate the heart and soul are important. I don’t know if that answers it. But it’s just as important as food. I realize I’m contentious in the U.S. context.

Have you ever taken a submersible down to see the wreck of the Titanic?
I wouldn’t do it. No. Because from my point of view, I think that’s a graveyard. And we don’t want to exploit people who have died. I don’t think it gets us anywhere, really. What we’re trying to do is to talk about life today, about people living now. Because it’s a pivotal time in history. I believe we’ve got to learn from how history repeats itself, time and again. There’s a time when humans were tested. They prevailed.

You’re talking about history repeating itself. We had this [OceanGate] submersible that went down last year, with everyone dying. Do you see a lesson in that, in trying to return to the past so directly?
One thing about the Titanic was that it didn’t have the safety controls that it should have. And you look at submersible, the same was true, that it didn’t have the safety or certification it needed. I think it’s a message for all of us, that when we go into the unexpected, if we’re going to challenge nature, we need to do it in a responsible manner. We need to have our authorities checking these sort of things out. Their design wasn’t what it should have been. If you look at James Cameron and other people who dive on the Titanic, they’re going in very safe submersibles. And, of course, why was that? [OceanGate] were trying to cut the budget and make more profit for the company. And that’s the wrong thing to do.

I’ve been noticing this painting over your shoulder. Can I ask what that boat is in the picture?
That’s the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic. It became a hospital ship in World War II and was sunk by the Germans off the coast of Ireland. [The Olympic, originally a commercial vessel that served as a troop ship during WWI, was decommissioned in 1935. The Britannic, another sister vessel, served as a hospital ship in WWI and sank in 1916 off the coast of Greece after striking a German mine. Neither served in WWII.]

Is that story meaningful to you as well, the hospital ship?
Again, it’s one of self-service. As I said, today you’ve got a lot of concerns, it’s going to be about the war in Ukraine, how it’s straining the U.S. economy. Same thing is happening in Gaza, people have a lot to be concerned about, and certainly what happened to Israel wasn’t very good either. The message is we’ve got to realize that we’re all human beings. We’ve all got the same needs. And basically, for me, it’s if you’ve got someone that loves you, somewhere we can sleep at night, with a good meal, the rest of it’s an illusion. That’s part of the message that we can send out with the Titanic. And, of course, we’ve also got a lot of people who make movies about Titanic that we’re talking to at the moment. This story is going to get bigger from here.

How many times have you seen the James Cameron movie?
I’ve only seen it twice. Molly Brown’s great-granddaughter was very grateful to him for reinvigorating it, bringing it to life. So I think he’s done a great job. But it shouldn’t be a competition between me and James Cameron, or someone else.

Well, I hope when Titanic II is built I can come and see it.
We’ll have it in New York Harbor, so we’ll reserve a position for you when it sails up the Hudson River. You can stand on the top deck and say, “Wooo! King of the world!”

Titanic II Hero Video

Titanic II Hero Video