Confirmation today that for the first time in its 171-year history, no ships in the Cunard fleet will be registered in the UK. Instead of having the name of their home port, Southampton, emblazoned across the stern and on their lifeboats, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will carry the name of Hamilton, capital of Bermuda.
The islands are a British Overseas Territory, so the ships will continue to fly the Red Ensign – which Bermuda has also adopted as its national flag.
None of this, however, was stated in the official announcement of the change, which follows a leak to the Financial Times almost four weeks ago.
A three paragraph statement from Cunard simply referred to the fact that the ships would, for the first time, be able to offer weddings at sea.
President and Managing Director Peter Shanks said: “Most of our competitors have been developing increasingly popular and lucrative Weddings at Sea programmes, and these are now very big business in the cruise industry.”
British law does not allow ship-board weddings because in order to be legally-recognised, ceremonies must be held in a “publicly-accessible place.”
There is no doubt that Queen Mary 2 in particular will be a prestige venue – not quite Westminster Abbey, perhaps, but certainly up there with some of the grandest castles and stately homes. And a marriage ceremony in mid-Atlantic, performed by a uniformed and gold-braided captain on one of the ship’s regular crossings between Southampton and New York, will certainly make for a night to remember.
There remains a suspicion, however, that the weddings are a cover for deeper economic reasons for a change of flag, allowing Cunard to save on wage bills and registration fees. Sailing under a “flag of convenience” – as most ships do – allows the company to employ crew at cheaper wages and to avoid UK and European employment law.
The change of registration will take place after the ships’ world cruises in the first three months of 2012. A Cunard Weddings at Sea brochure will be issued in November, and couples will be able to book their cruises and their nuptials from December.