‘I have enough money to build it 10 times over’: The Australian billionaire who has decided to rebuild the ‘Titanic’

Clive Palmer has been a self-made man, a conservative politician with questionable allies and now wants to become the person who reconstruct the most famous ship in the history of navigation

Clive Palmer
Clive Palmer in 2022 in Canberra.Rohan Thomson (Getty Images)
Miquel Echarri

One of the most quoted remarks of Karl Marx is that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The RMS Titanic, the largest passenger ship in the world, sank in the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of April 15, 1912 — a maritime disaster that cost the lives of around 1,500 people.

That’s the tragedy. Now, a millionaire and former Australian MP, Clive Palmer, has announced he will build an exact replica of the ill-fated ship and, if all goes according to plan, it will be ready to sail in June 2027. That would be the farce.

It’s not the first time that Palmer, 69, has promised to rebuild the Titanic. He announced this plan in 2012, coinciding with the first centenary of the famous shipwreck and, again, in 2018. On both occasions, the magnate’s partners backed out at the last moment, and he had to pull the plug on the project due to lack of funding.

This time, he says, will be different because he doesn’t have to rely on outsider investment. “I’ve got more money now,” he said at the announcement, according to The Guardian. Thanks to his iron, coal and nickel mines, Palmer has become the 13th richest man in Australia and one of the thousand great plutocrats in the world (number 734 to be exact). He has a fortune of around $4 billion, and is willing to spend between $500 million and $1 billion on reconstructing a ship that could have reigned the seas, but met a watery end on its maiden voyage.

A 56,000-ton whim

Palmer plans to create a 56,000-ton luxury liner that is very faithful to the original model, with a length of 296 meters (length from bow to stern) and a beam of 32.2 meters (width). It will have capacity for 2,345 passengers, who will be divided between nine decks, and 835 cabins, 383 of them reserved for first-class passengers.

Titanic: The Exhibition
An original pass for the 'Titanic' on display at an exhibit in Chicago in 2024.Jeff Schear (Getty Images for for Imagine Exh)

In a March 13 presentation at the Sydney Opera House, Palmer explained that second and third class tickets are intended to ensure that the Titanic II experience is within reach of all budgets. As was the case on the original ship, the first-class passengers will enjoy premium sparkling wines, oysters, caviar and lobster, while passengers with the cheapest tickets will be served stews and mash at a cafeteria just as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jack did in James Cameron’s film.

From what has emerged to date, Palmer — who owns the Blue Star Line cruise line — intends Titanic II to be a near exact replica of the maritime ruin that today lies in the depths of the ocean. It will have its famous central staircase with bronze garlands, skylights and crystal chandelier, inspired by the Versailles court of Louis XIV, as well as a lavish first-class smoking room, with mahogany panels and mother-of-pearl inlays. And the casinos, theaters, bronze cherubs and dance seen in Cameron’s Titanic will not be missing either. Nor will the Marconi Room, where wireless operators Jack Philip and Harold Bride sent their desperate SOS after the boat collided with an iceberg about 370 nautical miles off Newfoundland, Canada.

Trip down history

Even the four enormous chimneys, the steam turbine, the propulsion propellers and at least part of the 29 boiler rooms of the sunken ship are set to be replicated. But these will be just for decoration: Titanic II will run on a diesel engine. Passengers will be encouraged — but not forced — to dress in early 20th century fashion.

At the launch in Sydney, Palmer spoke of the project with great enthusiasm. “I’m going to do it. It’s a lot more fun to do the Titanic than it is to sit at home and count my money,” he said.

Although he is in a position to carry out the project himself, the billionaire is working with a group of investors and has employed the services of maritime design companies Deltamarin, V. Ships Leisure and Tillburg Design. The latter participated in making the luxury liners Queen Mary II and Queen Elizabeth II. Since 2018, Queen Elizabeth II has been a floating hotel with anchor in the port of Dubai.

Clive Palmer
Clive Palmer, the Australian politician and businessman who wants to resurrect the 'Titanic.'Rohan Thomson (Getty Images)

But Palmer had to face tough questions from the press at the launch, according to Catie McLeod from The Guardian. Some journalists pointed out that he made a similar announcement 10 years ago at the Ritz hotel in London, only to scratch the project with little explanation. Others said it was a publicity stunt or a hoax. The mining magnate dismissed the accusations as “bullshit,” saying he had “enough money to build the Titanic 10 times over.”

He’s working with a tight calendar, however, Beyond the promotional videos and 3D renders of the ship, all signs indicate that the project is in its infancy. It is not yet known which shipyard will build Titanic II, but Palmer is expected to publish the tenders in June and sign contracts in December. That month marks the start of the 30-month countdown to the ship’s maiden voyage, which is scheduled for the end of spring 2027. The route is yet-to-be determined, but it will likely be similar to the original crossing across the North Atlantic. The Titanic went from Southampton to New York, with brief stops in the French city of Cherbourg and the Irish port of Queenstown (today Cobh).

Don’t mention the weather

“What could possibly go wrong?” Taryn Pedler asks — not entirely rhetorically — in an article in The Daily Mail. He reports that Palmer told the audience at the launch that he would create “the ship of love,” a contemporary fantasy for people nostalgic for the glittering, optimistic world that preceded the First World War. According to Pedler, Blue Star Line said that the floating palace will be safe and iceberg-proof thanks to its “21st century technology.”

After all, there have only been 22 other cruise liner shipwrecks since the sinking of the Titanic, and none as catastrophic as the M/S Estonia, which foundered in Finnish Baltic waters in September 1994, killing 852 people. The last major disaster was in 2012, when the Costa Concordia cruise ship struck a rock formation on the sea floor.

The 'Titanic' in 1912. UniversalImagesGroup (Getty Images)

But it is very unlikely that there will be a repeat of the Titanic tragedy at this point in the 21st century. In the wake of the launch, the media, including Forbes magazine, has taken a closer look at the man behind the elaborate project. From these details, Palmer — born in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1954 — largely appears to be a self-made businessman.

Raised in a middle-class family, he studied Law, Journalism and Political Science and became rich during the Gold Coast property boom in the mid-1980s. This allowed him to retire from his ordinary activities at the age of 29 and follow his nose for investment, becoming a little bit richer every year. Before embarking on the Titanic project, he founded a football club (Gold Coast United) and took it to the highest professional level in record time. He also founded the Palmer United Party, which won him a seat in parliament in the 2017 federal election.

In politics, Palmer ended up associating with dubious characters such as Craig Kelly, a climate-change denier. Hand in hand with his new ally, the billionaire ended up defending controversial ideas about the origin of Covid-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines. In 2022, after being deserted by voters, he chose to disband the party. This decision coincided with alleged financial problems and up to four lawsuits for fraud and dishonest activities.

The news now is that Palmer seems to have weathered the storm and boasts, with good reason, that he is richer than ever. Nickel mines continue to generate profits. And recreating one of the most famous shipwrecks in history, if it comes to fruition, has become his life’s work.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS