Sails from Southampton Port in England with 1,309 passengers to mark the centenary of the sinking of White Star liner

Disaster tourism or homage to the victims of one of the world's worst disasters on sea?

This was the question being asked as a cruise packed with passengers left a port in England on Sunday to retrace the route of the Titanic that sank in the North Atlantic a hundred years ago barely four days into its maiden voyage.

MS Balmoral, called the Titanic Memorial Cruise, sailed from the Southampton Port carrying 1,309 passengers — exactly the same number as were on the ill-fated Titanic — to mark the centenary of the sinking of the White Star liner.

A memorial ceremony is planned at the site of the disaster next weekend.

Victims' relatives on board

Some of the relatives of those who died aboard the Titanic when it hit an iceberg on April 15, 1912 are on the memorial cruise, which is expected to reach New York city — the Titanic's intended destination — on April 19 after a 12-night journey during which passengers would be served from a “Titanic menu”.

Jane Allen, whose great uncle Tom Pears died in the disaster, dismissed criticism that the commemorative voyage was morbid or ghoulish.

“I don't think it's ghoulish or macabre at all. I've been to the World War II and I cemeteries in various places across the world. I think it's always important to remember,” she told the BBC.

“Emotional moment”

Philip Littlejohn, grandson of one of the survivors of the tragedy, described it as an “emotional moment.”

“I'm sure my grandfather would be proud to know his story will be shared with the passengers on this historic cruise. It will be an emotional moment when we are over the wreck site,” he said.

‘Not for money'

Miles Morgan, managing director of the company which has organised the voyage, denied that his firm was making money out of “disaster tourism.”

He claimed it was intended to be “a sympathetic memorial to the passengers and crew who lost their lives.”

Pay £6,000 each

People from 20 countries are on board Ms Balmoral. They have paid up to £6,000 each depending on which class they are travelling.

The mood at the Southampton Port was of quiet excitement often tinged with emotion.

Some passengers wore period costumes as they boarded the cruise — one of the many commemorations and memorials planned to mark the sinking of the Titanic.

Letter to be auctioned

IANS reports:

The last letter written by the heroic bandleader on the Titanic is to be auctioned this month. He, along with his band, played on while the vessel was sinking. They all finally drowned.

The two-page letter to his parents in Colne, Lancashire, is believed to be the only one Wallace Hartley wrote during his time on board the liner. It is dated just “Wednesday,” the day April 10, 1912, that the liner left Southampton for New York on its maiden voyage and five days before it hit an iceberg, the Daily Express reported.

While the ship sank beneath the Atlantic, the 33-year-old violinist led the eight-member band in melodies to calm the hundreds of men, women and children who passed by them to the lifeboats.

He wrote on headed Titanic paper: “Just a line to say, we have got away all right. It's been a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled. This is a fine ship and there ought to be plenty of money on her.”

The letter will be sold with other Titanic items at RR Auction in New Hampshire on April 19.

His selfless sacrifice on the night of the disaster made Hartley one of the best-known heroes to emerge from the tragic event that claimed 1,512 lives.

More In: International | News