Voyage marks sea tragedy

A cruise recreating the voyage of the Titanic sets sail today with the exact same number of passengers on board as the famous liner that sank on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.

The MS Balmoral will leave Southampton on the 12-night cruise to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic 100 years ago this month.

The same number of 1,309 passengers and the same port of departure are part of an effort to recreate the voyage of arguably the most famous ship of all time at a cost of between £2,799 and £5,995 per person.

Food on board is from the menus of the White Star Line ship that sank on April 15 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

The organisers have even hired a band - the five-piece Grupetto from Belgium - to play period music in honour of the Titanic's musicians who are said to have played until the ship sank.

People from 28 different countries have booked to travel and retrace the liner's original route. All must be hoping this particular ship makes it to New York - unlike its predecessor.

There will be a special memorial service for passengers above the wreck site on April 14 starting at 11.40pm, when the ship hit the iceberg and another at 2.20am on April 15 when it sank.

Relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragedy and relatives of survivors, authors, historians and people who are fascinated by the Titanic story are on board.

Those who have paid to go are from Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, South America and the US - testament to the world-wide appeal of the story which was given a huge boost by the 1997 film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines-operated MS Balmoral has been chartered for the event by Miles Morgan Travel, which specialises in tailor-made holidays.

A line-up of 10 specialist lecturers - some of the world's leading experts on the sinking - will be on board including Philip Littlejohn, grandson of Titanic survivor Alexander James Littlejohn, and the only Titanic relative to have made the dive to the wreck site.

Mr Littlejohn said: "I'm sure my grandfather, a 1st Class Steward on RMS Titanic, 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, where I dived in 2001 and where my grandfather left Titanic rowing Lifeboat 13."

Miles Morgan, managing director of Miles Morgan Travel, said: "This cruise has been five years in the making and every step of the way we have sought to make it authentic to the era and a sympathetic memorial to the passengers and crew who lost their lives."

The food on board will be based on the dishes served in April 1912.

The menu has been created by executive chef on the Balmoral, Dirk Helsig, who has researched the menus that were served on board.

A formal dinner on April 13 will have a menu made up entirely of dishes which were served on the Titanic and guests will enjoy a daily Titanic-inspired dish.

The Revd Canon Huw Mosford, director of chaplaincy from the Mission to Seafarers, will lead the memorial service.

Another cruise from New York is due to meet up with the British ship over the wreck site.