x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Across the oceans again: QE2's owner plans trip to Cape Town

Dubai World applies to the National Ports Authority of Cape Town, South Africa, to berth the QE2 in the commercial port area.

The QE2 was supposed to be permanently berthed off of Palm Jumeirah when it arrived in Dubai last November.
The QE2 was supposed to be permanently berthed off of Palm Jumeirah when it arrived in Dubai last November.

ABU DHABI // Just seven months after her "final voyage" from Southampton to Dubai to become a floating hotel off the Palm Jumeirah, the Queen Elizabeth 2 may have one more trip ahead of her. Dubai World, the ports and property conglomerate, has applied to the National Ports Authority of Cape Town, South Africa, to berth the cruise liner in the commercial port area.

Ronel Bester, a spokeswoman for the country's tourism ministry, confirmed that the application had been filed, and said a decision would be made by July 17. A spokeswoman for Nakheel, the property arm of Dubai World, said: "In addition to alternative locations in Dubai, a number of ports in Africa and the Middle East have expressed interest in hosting her as a stationary hotel." The move comes as Nakheel is facing difficulties caused by the global economic downturn.

The company has a US$3.5 billion (Dh13bn) Islamic bond maturing in December and is suffering from the difficult property market, with contractors still needing to be paid despite dramatically slower sales. Nakheel has cut about 400 more jobs in recent weeks, following 500 layoffs in December, according to people close to the company. It is also trying to sell land and other assets to raise funds, according to investors who said they had been approached by Nakheel.

Moving the QE2 to Cape Town would still be a potential moneymaker for Dubai World, which together with a consortium of investors bought the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront development near Cape Town's commercial port for about 7.5bn South African rand (Dh3.35bn) in 2006. Dubai World Africa, along with Nakheel Hotels & Resorts, has been working on a redesign of the area for two years. Annemie Liebenberg, the marketing director for the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, said the basin near the waterfront was too shallow to hold the QE2, which is why it would need to berthed next door in the commercial port. The arrival of such a well-known vessel would be a major attraction for the waterfront, Mr Liebenberg said. "If it happens, we'll be very excited."

Dubai World is looking for a partner to manage the new hotel, according to a report in Business Day in South Africa, which first reported the QE2 application yesterday. The cruise liner was bought by Istithmar, an investment arm of Dubai World, for $100 million in June 2007. When the ship arrived in Dubai last November, it was greeted by a flotilla of yachts and ships, and a fly-past by an Emirates Airline jet.

Nakheel said at the time that the vessel would be permanently berthed off a spit of land connected to the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah. A planned refurbishment would have transformed the 41-year-old ship into a floating hotel with 200 rooms. Moving the ship to Cape Town would be a testament to Dubai World's increasing interests in Africa. In recent years its African subsidiary has bought up game parks and interests in ports, as well as buying tourism ventures in places such as Djibouti and Senegal.

Hayan Merchant, the chief executive of the UAE property developer Ruwaad, said South Africa was the best place on the continent for tourism projects. "If someone is serious about penetrating into the African continent, South Africa is really the best place with tourism infrastructure at the moment. "It is a gateway destination to the whole continent." bhope@thenational.ae