After 171 years of registering its ships in the United Kingdom, Cunard Line announced today that it is re-flagging its entire fleet -- Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth -- in Bermuda. Starting at the end of this month, Hamilton' (instead of 'Southampton') will be emblazoned across the stern of each ship.
While there are various reasons for changing the fleet's registry, today's press statement highlighted only the positive -- the fact that Cunard will now be able to offer weddings at sea, fulfilling pent-up demand for couples to tie the knot at a captain-officiated ceremony in the middle of the Atlantic.
Ships flagged in the U.K. are not allowed to offer this service: Under U.K. law, couples can be married on a ship but only when it's in port and only by a minister or other notary. Cunard is at a competitive disadvantage in the lucrative romance market; its sister lines, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, as well as the ships of rival Celebrity Cruises are flagged in Bermuda or Malta, allowing them to offer wedding ceremonies at sea.
However, economic reasons most likely also played a part in Cunard's move. Britain's new Equality Act 2010 means that workers from EU countries employed on British-registered ships must be paid wages equal to those of British citizens. While many lines favour Filipino and Indian crew, Cunard employs a lot of dining room waiters and bartenders from Eastern Europe and its increased wage bill no doubt played a part in this decision.
Cunard's three Queens will still use Southampton as their home base, and because they're being registered in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, they'll still fly the Red Ensign. The 'Weddings at Sea' programme will kick in after the ships have completed their world cruises early in 2012 and will go on sale this December.
--by Sue Bryant, x Contributing Editor