Japan rebuilds `Titanic'

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A FULL-SIZE replica of the Titanic is to be built in the Far East for use by a Japanese company as a floating hotel and conference centre. The plans are being provided by a construction company in Northern Ireland, where the original ship was launched in 1911.

Mivan Marine, which specialises in refitting cruise ships, has just finished drawing up interior plans of the new vessel. It refuses to name the Japanese client.

The designs closely follow those of the first Titanic's Belfast shipbuilder, Harland & Wolff. They include features such as the grand staircase with its glass dome, ionic columns and carved wood panelling.

``It will be full-scale, exactly like the original, except there will be no engines or steering mechanism,'' a spokesman for Mivan Marine said. There will be a four-storey exhibition hall in place of the boiler rooms. The cabins will also be brought up to modern standards. None will be third-class.

All the public rooms will be dutifully replicated. The Titanic, which was 882ft long, had a ballroom, library, smoking room, Turkish bath, gymnasium and writing room, as well as the first floating swimming pool.

Its replacment will cost about pounds 100m, compared with between pounds 1m and pounds 3m for the original, and it could be completed as early as 1997 at a shipyard in the Far East. Mivan Marine, a subsidiary of the Antrim-based Mivan construction company which specialises in huge projects - it built Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad and is currently regilding the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem - hopes that as much as 35 per cent of the fittings will be made in the UK.

Japanese tourists are expected to be big fans of the ship, the Mivan spokesman said. ``They go crazy over nostalgic stuff like that.''

But survivors of the infamous tragedy are less enthusiastic. ``It is the most horrible idea,'' said Millvina Dean, 82, of Southampton, who lost her father in the 1912 shipwreck when she was nine weeks old. ``They're turning an awful maritime disaster into a hotel to make money. It's disrespectful.''

Miss Dean is one of three remaining British survivors from the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg on 14 April, 1912 during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Only 705 people were rescued while at least 1,523 perished.

(Photograph omitted)