End of an Era as Cunard Re-registers to Hamilton – Updated

Really it was only a matter of time. P&O began the transition in 2005 with Arcadia, the first to be registered in Bermuda. Oceana was next then Artemis followed after her conversion from Royal Princess a couple of months later. They actually went unnoticed and it was Oriana’s which got the press attention. In 2006 P&O said it was to hold weddings at sea since the 1949 Weddings Act only permits them to take place on land. My Yahoo Group covered these articles, which I first posted about here and in the November, it hit the papers.

Oriana ditches British registry to host weddings
By Keith Hamilton

SOUTHAMPTON’S luxury cruise ship Oriana is to ditch its British registry and be re-registered in Bermuda – so it can carry out weddings.

The ship’s owner, P&O Cruises, has confirmed that the vessel will still fly the famous Red Ensign flag but it has further revealedthat its new cruise ship Ventura, which enters service in Southampton in spring 2008, will also be registered in Bermuda.

P&O Cruises denied the move was to cut operating costs and insisted Bermuda had been chosen so it would be legal for passengers to be married by the ship’s captain, which is not possible on vessels registered in the UK.

Under British law a ship could be licensed for marriages if it was permanently moored and did not move but as vessels such as cruise ships constantly travel the world they cannot be used for marriages.

Regret When Oriana comes back into service on Monday, December 18 following a refit she will join P&O’s other Southampton based ships, Arcadia, Oceana and Artemis which are also registered in Bermuda.

News of P&O’s decision was greeted with “regret” at the nation’s seafaring watchdog, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at its Southampton headquarters in Commercial Road.

David Wright, the MCA’s registrar general for shipping and seamen, said: “The UK Ship Register greatly regrets the decision of P&O to change Oriana to the Bermuda Register.

“We understand that P&O want to have the flexibility to marry passengers on the ship, which is currently not possible on UK ships.

“The Bermuda Register operates to the same safety standards as the UK Ship Register and the Maritime and Coast-guard Agency regularly audits their operations.

“We are not sure if there are any other advantages which may have persuaded P&O to move to a non-EU flag.”

P&O is now part of the huge Miami based shipping empire, Carnival Corpor-ation, which owns Princess Cruises, which also registers itsships in Bermuda, and Cunard, which has no plans to switch registry from Britain, with its new liner, Queen Victoria entering service next year flying the Red Ensign.

David Dingle, the managing director of Carnival UK, the parent company of P&O Cruises, said: “This move is unconnected with our corporate parentage and similar decisions would have been made even if we had not merged with Carnival. Our ships are very British, with no American influence.

“Bermuda, along with the UK, has the highest level of flag state performance. Because Bermuda is a UK Overseas Territory, her shipping registry shares many standards and practices with the UK registry and flies the Red Ensign.

“We understand that there is no likelihood in the foreseeable future of weddings at sea being permitted on UK registered ships but we have already seen strong demand in the UK for our weddings on board.

“Operating under the Bermudan registry will make no difference in costs and we remain fully committed to the employment of British officers, who are fundamental to the P&O Cruises’ brand, and we are equally committed to the existing nationalities of our ratings.

British staff “We market almost exclusively to the British market, we run our business from Southampton, we employ increasing numbers of British staff both on board and ashore and continue to increase our contribution to the British economy.” Mr Dingle said P&O has made no decision on whether the company’s other Southampton based ship, Aurora, would be re-flagged in the future so as to allow weddings on board.

My response was this comment which has turned out to be true, though taken longer than expected. I was wrong about QV arriving Bermundan flagged but then, Cunard were still run by Princess until later 2007 when Vicky DID arrive and P&O began to stamp their own mark on the Cunard brand, right down to the plastic Union Jacks (pity they don’t bring back the quayside band!).

Keith Hamilton, of the Southern Daily Echo, wrote a very good piece about weddings at sea on the 26th November 2006:

Business booms for cruise weddings, but why can’t British ships let couples tie the knot?
By Keith Hamilton

PICTURE the happy scene. It’s the blushing bride’s big day. She walks down the aisle to the waiting groom while in the congregation proud parents beam as the couple tie the knot.

However, these days it is sometimes a seamen’s knot that binds the bride and groom together as more and more couples opt for a wedding at sea and this is big business for many Southampton based cruise ships.

So far this year almost 200 couples have been married on the city’s ships and this number is set to keep on rising.

In fact, there are no wedding wishes, such as fresh flowers, photographs, invitations and even a specially made three-tiered wedding cake, that companies such as P&O Cruises cannot fulfil.

The enduringly romantic notion of being married by a captain at sea can now be a reality as shipping lines rush to provide a unique backdrop for a wedding.

Whether it is just a couple looking for a quiet service or a lavish affair with dozens of guests, flowers, bottles of bubbly and everyone joining the honeymoon cruise there is a ship that will arrange it.

There was a flurry of confetti earlier this week on board Southampton’s Oriana when P&O Cruises announced the vessel was giving up British registry and switching to Bermuda – all because the company wanted to be able to hold weddings at sea.

It is a long-held misconception that a couple can run away to sea and be married by a ship’s captain.

In reality it’s far more complicated. Under Britain’s Marriage Act of 1949, weddings can only be held in a “permanent and identifiable place” and a vessel ploughing through the Atlantic does not meet the lawful requirements.

So when couples began increasingly to ask if they could be married at sea, shipping bosses – quick to seize the chance to boost passenger numbers – looked around to see how they could make maritime marriages legal.

The answer lay 3,460 miles away in Bermuda, already a popular registry, not least because the islands in the North Atlantic, unlike the UK, invested the power to conduct legal weddings with the ship’s master.

When Oriana arrives in Southampton on December 18 after a refit, she will have completed her registration with Bermuda and the crew will be able to welcome brides and grooms.

Oriana will join other P&O Cruises’ ships in Southampton such as Arcadia, Artemis and Oceana already registered in Bermuda.

The company has made no decision on whether Aurora, will follow.

Seamen’s trade unions worried about cruise ships leaving the British registry so they become venues for weddings have for some years lobbied the government to change the rules of the Marriage Act.

Andrew Lingington, a spokesman for Nautilus UK, formerly NUMAST, said: “Marriage services make the cruise companies a lot of money and we have tried to persuade the government to change the rules to allow weddings to take place on UK vessels.

“The trouble is we keep asking the government but it still has not found the parliamentary time to make the changes.” It is understood that there is no likelihood in the foreseeable future that weddings will be permitted on UK registered ships at sea and so as demand for ceremonies of this kind increase it is likely more British ships will be forced into changing registry.

At the end of 2007, Aurora underwent her change and was the last to do so. I had been on a QE2 cruise which had Aurora with us from start to finish and wrote afterwards about it on the Yahoo group.

The end of another UK passenger shipping era and one which wasn’t that diffcult to predict would come at some point even back then. Peter Shanks last month made it perfectly clear that’s what was intended, otherwise he’d never have mentioned it at all. While Labour changed the rules to allow weddings in any licensed venue, they still failed to do anything about this one at the same time and, as a result, Cunard has now been lost to Bermuda. Even if the current government get off their useless backsides and do something, it’s doubtful any of these cruise lines will revert back because foreign flagging means cheaper costs.

Update 20th October – Reflagging will begin on the 24th with Queen Elizabeth. GBTT, once proudly carried around the world by Queen Mary (1936-67) then QE2 (1969-2008) and given to the current one in October 2010, will be no more. Queen Victoria will follow on the 27th while Queen Mary 2 will be during refit on the 1st December.

The best bum in the world!

2nd best bum in the world!

QV after kissing the dock in Malta

QE arriving in Oct 2010 with Southampton on her stern

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5 Responses to End of an Era as Cunard Re-registers to Hamilton – Updated

  1. Christian says:

    It fails me how this announcement marks ‘The End of an Era’ for Cunard. The current fleet, QUEEN MARY 2, QUEEN ELIZABETH and QUEEN VICTORIA will still fly the Red Ensign and the only thing that will change is the port of registry which will change to Hamilton – don’t forget that Bermuda is British territory. This is no great loss and I doubt will have little effect on the Cunard experience. It is clear that P&O and Cunard are simply meeting the changing demands of the guest. I will stay loyal to Cunard and I wish them continued success. As for these so called ‘flags of convenience’ – what utter nonsense!

    • It’s the end of an era because after 171 years Cunard will no longer have British registered ships, like when P&O got around to changing Aurora. Bermuda may be a British territory but they will not be a British ship any longer. The MAIB will no longer investigate incidents. They fall under Bermuda and their laws. As for ‘flags of convenience’, it is well documented cruise lines reflag to avoid certain regulations and has been the case for many decades. You stay loyal and I’m sure others will, like those who did with P&O. But P&O have changed and so have Cunard. Cunard are P&O in black and red but higher fares. Personally I would prefer crew get better pay and conditions by having ships registered in the UK. They’re treated like crap as it is. With foreign flags it gives the cruise lines licence to give them less than they already get, and that goes for ALL cruise lines. Google flags of convenience or ask anyone about them and they’ll tell you just what I have.

  2. anonymous says:

    Changing the registration to Bermuda means Cunard will not have to comply with a new UK law which states all employees who are EU nationals must be paid UK minimum wage. Crew onboard will continue to be paid far less tha n £6 per hour so Cunard have wriggled their way out of offering a fair and reasonable rate of pay for its crew. Lovely.

  3. solentships says:

    I agree with ‘anonymous’ and with Patricia, that this is less about marrying those gullible enough to pay through the nose for it and more to do with cost-cutting.
    Bermuda is welcome to the Vista clones but it would be nice if the big liner could remain registered in Southampton…I don’t suppose most of the ‘marrying public’ know or care which one they acquire their ball-and-chain on.

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