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Belfast wagers on Titanic's unsinkable appeal

By Jill Lawless

The Titanic departs Southampton, England, on her maiden Atlantic Ocean voyage to New York in 1912.

To most of the world, the name Titanic means tragedy, spiced with romance, sacrifice and luxury. But in Belfast, where it was built, the doomed ship is a triumph of industry, enterprise and engineering.

The city hopes the rest of the world will soon see it that way, too.

Northern Ireland's capital, scarred by 30 years of Catholic-Protestant violence and mired in Europe's economic doldrums, is gambling on a gleaming new Titanic tourist attraction to bring it fame beyond the Troubles - and a renewed sense of civic pride.

Tying the city's name to a sinking ship is not, apparently, a problem.

"What happened to the Titanic was a disaster," said Tim Husbands, chief executive of Titanic Belfast, a £100 million (NZ$193.5m) visitor attraction due to open on March 31, in advance of the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. "But the ship wasn't."

Colin Cobb, a Titanic expert who leads walking tours of the docks and slipways where the great ship was built a century ago, puts it even more succinctly: "Tragedy plus time equals tourism."

Celebrating the ship and its builders is the aim of Titanic Belfast, a shiny new "visitor experience" - don't call it a museum - whose four prow-like wings jut jauntily skyward beside the River Lagan on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Titanic, then the world's largest, most luxurious ocean liner, left this spot on April 2, 1912, eight days before its maiden voyage from England to New York.

The vessel touted as "practically unsinkable" hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912. More than 1500 of the 2200 people on board died.

Belfast mourned - and then, for decades, kept quiet about its link to the tragedy.

"When she sank, it was a huge shock for the city," said Susie Millar, whose great-grandfather Thomas Millar was a deck engineer who perished aboard the Titanic.

"For years and years it wasn't discussed. But now, coming up to the 100th anniversary, we've rediscovered that pride in the ship and we're sharing those stories again."

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