Cunard divorces with U.K. over weddings at sea
Vexed by British restrictions; ocean liners will fly Bermuda flag
In a bid to cash in on the growing weddings-at-sea market among the world’s luxury liners, the historic Cunard Line passenger service — founded by 19th-century Canadian businessman Samuel Cunard — will end its 171-year relationship with British maritime authorities next month and hoist the flag of Bermuda.
The decision, prompted by restrictions in British law about who can perform on-board marriage ceremonies, has alarmed one of the U.K.’S largest ship workers’ unions, Nautilus International, which lamented Cunard’s planned de-registration by Dec. 1 as a loss of “truly immense significance” for British shipping.
Citing the “iconic symbolism of these ships and the long history of Cunard” as a pioneer in transatlantic travel, the union also decried the forfeited “economic contribution that they make as U.K.registered vessels.”
Cunard Line, now owned by the U.s.-based tourism conglomerate Carnival Corp., was perhaps Canada’s most recognizable corporate brand internationally during the Victorian era.
“Sir Samuel” — as the Halifax-born Cunard was known after receiving a knighthood for lending his ships to the Crimean War in the 1850s — helped ensure Halifax’s position as a major North American port and forged crucial commercial and political ties between colonial Nova Scotia and the broader British Empire before Confederation.
The company’s flagship, Queen Mary 2, is scheduled to visit Canada next summer, stopping at Halifax, Saint John, N.B. and Quebec City.
The severing of Cunard’s formal link to British shipping came down to rules in the U.K. that mean on-board weddings can only take place when vessels are in port, and can only be performed by religious officials or public notaries — not ship captains.
Bermuda’s Royal Gazette reported two of Cunard’s ocean liners — Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth — have already been registered on the Atlantic Ocean island, which is a British overseas territory but maintains a separate maritime regime.
Queen Mary 2 will complete its registration in Bermuda on Dec. 1.
“Most of our competitors have been offering increasingly popular and lucrative ‘Weddings at Sea’ programs, and these are now very big business in the cruise industry,” Cunard Line president Peter Shanks said Oct. 19. “We receive a lot of inquiries about the possibility of being married on one of our ships — particularly during our regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings on our flagship Queen Mary 2, which no other company can offer.”
The “re-flagging” of the Cunard fleet would surely have shocked the company’s founder, who maintained homes in Halifax and London and was proud of the bond between colonial Nova Scotia and imperial Britain that his shipping firm represented.
Cunard had unexpectedly outmanoeuvred various British shipping interests to secure a landmark U.K. government contract for transatlantic steamship service in 1840, literally putting Halifax on the map as a prime North American destination for the run.
“When word of Cunard’s accomplishment reached Halifax, the city went wild,” noted U.S. author Daniel Allen Butler in his 2003 book The Age of Cunard: A Transatlantic History. “The prospects for business and commerce held forth by being the western terminal of the new steamship line were dazzling. New hotels were built, shipyards refurbished and expanded, and collieries set up to supply the expected steamships with coal.”
The Cunard Line was launched with a historic Liverpool-halifax-boston passenger-and-mail voyage by the paddle steamer RMS Britannia in July 1840, an event commemorated in a 2004 Canadian stamp honouring Sir Samuel Cunard.
A statue of Cunard adorns Halifax’s waterfront, and the shipping magnate and the famed ocean liner service he built are prominently featured at the city’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.