Belfast, birthplace of the Titanic, on Tuesday remembered the fateful day 86 years ago when the mighty liner hit an iceberg.

The Ulster Titanic Society said the anniversary offered a chance to reflect on the lives of the 1,500 people who died when "the unsinkable ship" went down in the Atlantic.But the society's chairman would prefer the Northern Ireland capital to commemorate April 2, the proud day when the ship left Belfast at the start of its tragically short maritime life.

"Today is the time to reflect on those people who lost their lives," Cameron said.

"Many Titanic societies all over the world mark today. But we feel we are unique in Belfast because we are the only place in the world where we can celebrate the ship leaving," he told The Irish News.

The ill-fated ship was built at the Harland and Wolff dockyard. The yard's giant yellow gantries still dominate the Belfast skyline, but now it builds oil-drilling ships, not glamorous liners.

Cameron recalled how the night of April 14, 1912, was a rare one in the Atlantic - the sea was flat calm, the weather bitterly cold and the sky moonless.

"Most of the people who died did not drown, they died from hypothermia. Others died when they jumped from the ship, their hard cork life jackets breaking their necks as they hit the water.

"What is remarkable looking back on it today is that the male first-class passengers stepped back and let their wives and children get off."

The tragedy became a part of Hollywood history too last month when the epic disaster movie "Titanic" sailed off with 11 Oscars.

It has now grossed more than $1 billion, making it the most successful film of all time.

The movie's international success has sparked frenetic interest in Titanic memorabilia in auction houses from London to New York, which have been selling off everything from SOS messages to the playing cards of first-class passengers.

The film has been a box office hit in Belfast, and since its release, Harland and Wolff reports, sales of its Titanic souvenirs have jumped 10-fold.

But the Titanic's tragic tale is intertwined with the troubled history of Northern Ireland, reflecting on the deep sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics.

Catholic shipyard workers, the target of Protestant attacks, believed the ship sank because it carried hidden anti-Catholic messages.

They said the ship bore the number 3909 ON that when reversed reads "No Pope."

Seventeen shipworkers were killed in accidents while building the Titanic, and the ghosts of two - Danny and Hugh - are said still to roam the old Belfast slipway today.