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Australian billionaire announces construction of Titanic II, a high-tech replica

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In this April 25, 2012 photo provided by Crook Publicity, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer poses in front of an artist impression of the Titanic ll at MGM Studios in Los Angeles, Ca. Palmer said Monday, April 30, 2012, that he'll build a high-tech replica of the Titanic at a Chinese shipyard and its maiden voyage in late 2016 will be from England to New York, just like its namesake planned. (AP/Crook Publicity)

An Australian billionaire has announced the construction of the Titanic II: a replica of the iconic ship with the same dimensions, rooms and smokestacks, but with a 21st-century interior makeover.

Weeks after the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the original Titanic, Clive Palmer said Monday he has signed a memorandum of understanding with state-owned Chinese company CSC Jinling Shipyard to build the Titanic II. Construction of the ship will begin in late 2013, the Australian reports, with its maiden voyage from England to New York set for 2016.

"It will be every bit as luxurious as the original Titanic, but ... will have state-of-the-art 21st-century technology and the latest navigation and safety systems," Palmer said in a statement. He called the project "a tribute to the spirit of the men and women who worked on the original Titanic."

The Titanic II will have 840 rooms on nine decks, like the original, along with gymnasiums and swimming pools, Palmer said, according to Bloomberg.

Libraries, high-end restaurants and luxury cabins will  round out the ship's interior, Palmer told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The diesel-powered ship will have four smokestacks like the coal-powered original, but they will be purely decorative.

The space of the old coal boilers will be used as an exhibition room to promote tourism for Queensland, Australia, where Palmer is from, the Herald reports.

Some of the most obvious changes from the original Titanic would be below the water line, including welding rather than rivets, a bulbous bow for greater fuel efficiency and enlarged rudder and bow thrusters for increased maneuverability, Palmer said.

But Palmer wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the ship sinking.

"Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it,” he told The Australian. "It will be designed as a modern ship with all the technology to ensure that doesn't happen. But of course if you are superstitious like you are, you never know what could happen."

More than 1,500 people died after the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its first voyage. It was the world's largest and most luxurious ocean liner at the time.

Palmer built a fortune on real estate on Australia's Gold Coast tourist strip before becoming a coal mining magnate. BRW magazine reported he was Australia's fifth-richest person last year with wealth in excess of  $5.2 billion ($5 billion Australian dollars).

Palmer said at a news conference that previous attempts to build a Titanic replica failed because proponents did not raise enough money or commission a shipyard. The Titanic II is the first of four luxury cruise ships Palmer has commissioned CSC Jinling Shipyard to build.

The Chinese Navy will escort the ship to London after its completion, Bloomberg reports.

Palmer did not provide a cost estimate. He said he had established a new shipping company, Blue Star Line Pty. Ltd., and that design work for the Titanic II has begun with assistance from a historical research team.

Brett Jardine, general manager for Australia and New Zealand in the industry group International Cruise Council, said Titanic II would be small by modern standards, but could prove viable at the top end of the luxury market.

"From a marketing point of view, many will embrace it and perhaps there'll be some that wouldn't," Jardine said.

"If you've got a niche, it's going to work. Why go out there and try to compete with the mass market products that are out there now?" he added.

While the Titanic II would carry around 1,680 passengers, most modern cruise ships create economies of scale by catering to more than 2,000 passengers, he said.

Allure of the Seas, one of the world's largest passenger ships,  is 295 feet (90 meters) longer than the 886-foot (270-meter) Titanic and has 2,700 cabins.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.