x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Renovations begin on QE2

Grand plans to completely renovate the QE2, once a leading lady in the glamorous world of ocean cruise liners, have been resurrected. While the hawsers have not been fully cast off on the project, promises have been made the ship will stay in Dubai.

In this photo released by Cunard shows ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth 2 as it sails from Sydney Harbour in 2008.
In this photo released by Cunard shows ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth 2 as it sails from Sydney Harbour in 2008.

DUBAI // Planning has begun to restore the QE2, the former cruise liner which has languished in Port Rashid for two years, to its former glory.

Initial planning and small-scale contract work have resumed on the ship, which is named after the British Queen Elizabeth II and was once the pride of Cunard's fleet.

Istithmar World, a subsidiary of Dubai World, bought the boat for US$100 million (Dh367.3m) in 2007, initially intending to convert it into a luxury hotel permanently berthed off the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah.

An official connected with the project, who has asked not to be identified, says work had "not exactly" restarted.

"We are still in the planning stages and trying to identify the work that needs doing," he says. "They have plans to restart, but it's a decision from the very top, and I haven't yet got any clear information on that.

"There have been a lot of modifications that have been made in England, for which there are no records. We are studying the lines of the ship now so we know better how much time it will take for us to finish the project. It seems like a fairly big job."

Last month, the engineering company Chalmers carried out a small-scale asbestos removal on a portion of the ship.

"It was just a small job," says John Thomas, the operations director at Chalmers. "I think they were doing some sample cabins and they wanted those cabins sorted out."

Mr Thomas declined to give further details about the scale or nature of the work.

The ship has touched many lives.

David Ross, a veteran engineer who now lives in Dubai, worked on the QE2 as a 16-year-old apprentice at John Brown's shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, from where the ship first set sail, on November 19, 1968, for trials in the Irish Sea.

Mr Ross works as a project engineering manager for the company, which is now known as Masaood John Brown and specialises in gas turbines.

He admits he has had "mixed feelings" about the ship lying untouched for so many years.

"You do develop an attachment to the things you work on," Mr Ross says. "A ship becomes more than the sum of its parts when it's built. It turns into a living, breathing thing."

He remains hopeful the QE2 will take the path of the much older Queen Mary, another Cunard ship, which became a hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.

"It's always a difficult question when you have something that's reached the end of its life," Mr Ross says. "Do you turn it into razor blades, or do you turn it into something useful? If they were to use the model of the Queen Mary, it could be a real crowd puller. But it needs to be done in the right way."

Sinclair Liddell, an operations manager for Masaood John Brown, also worked at the company while it was a shipbuilder. He says he is not sure what state the ship is in.

"It would be a relief for them to do something with it, rather than just letting it rot," Mr Liddell says.

The ship was originally part of a grandiose hotel development that would have seen a specially designed pier, marina and refurbishments including a 500-seat theatre in the old engine room and an observation tower in place of the funnel.

But the Dubai property company Nakheel, developer of the Palm Jumeirah and The World group of manmade islands, had long been tight-lipped about the state of those plans until last month.

Then Ali Rashid Lootah, its chairman, said a townhouse development would be built where the QE2 was slated to be berthed.

Mr Lootah said the ship would no longer be based on the Palm.

"The QE2 will be placed in a much better location," he said. "The Government of Dubai is developing an up-to-date modern cruise terminal. That will be a better environment.

"It will stay in Dubai. The QE2 is part of Dubai."