August 27, 2007

Ore dump delay sinks PE South Africa bid to berth QE2

This about how South Africa was beaten to getting the QE2 by Dubai on

"AN ambitious project to bring one of the world‘s most famous ocean liners to anchor permanently in the Port Elizabeth harbour has been torpedoed by a delay in the relocation of the manganese ore dump to Coega.

Negotiations to buy the Queen Elizabeth 2, which has been decommissioned after 50 years‘ service, were at an advanced stage between Port Elizabeth businessmen and the liner‘s owner, Cunard, when the R742-million deal was scuppered by the National Ports Authority (NPA).

Despite the bid having the support of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, the Mandela Bay Development Agency and Nelson Mandela Tourism, the NPA said no confirmation could be given that the ore berth would be available for the QE2 and that they were in fact considering increasing the capacity of the ore site and extending the lease to 2015.

The permanent availability of the ore berth in the harbour was key to making the project work and, when this could not be verified, the owners signed off on another offer from Dubai.

Project initiator Andre Jensen said a strategy to raise the required R742-million to buy the Queen Elizabeth 2 through a listing on the stock exchange, had been warmly received.

He also said the value of the project as a second-to-none attraction and empowerment vehicle had been widely supported by senior Port Elizabeth authorities.

The difficulty in finding a permanent berth for a ship this size at any existing harbour in the world was one of the selling points for the project.

The co-incidence of the end of the sea life of the ship and the planned conversion of the Port Elizabeth harbour to tourism and conference facilities, “provided a wonderful opportunity for the marriage of the Elizabeths,” he said.

A charted accountant by training and now involved in the transport business, Jensen said he had got the idea for the project when he went on a cruise on the QE2 in mid-2005 and heard that she was probably soon going to be decommissioned after 50 years of service.

“I then approached the owners, Cunard, who confirmed the liner was going up for sale.
Sensing an extraordinary opportunity, Jensen established a partnership with former PE Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Alfred da Costa and launched the company QE2PE, aimed at bring the royal liner to the Friendly City.

The plan was that delegates attending meetings at Port Elizabeth‘s proposed Kings Beach international conference centre would be accommodated on board the QE2, enhancing the viability of the centre a hundred-fold.

The news from NPA that the project was not possible had been delivered to them by Port Elizabeth port manager Esther Goosen, Jensen said.

Before hearing the news from Goosen, Jensen said he and Da Costa had had good support from then Portnet business unit manager Siya Mhlaluka. Contacted by The Herald, Mhlaluka referred all comment to the NPA.

Jensen said the project had also had the thumbs-up from municipal manager Graham Richards and Mandela Bay Tourism chief executive officer Fezekile Tshiwula, “but none were able to do anything other than to offer moral support”. Mandela Bay Development Agency director Pierre Voges confirmed he had known about the project and had fully supported it.

Jensen said a measure of QE2‘s value and the magnitude of the opportunity lost for Port Elizabeth was signalled in how fast tickets had sold for her last voyage – 36 minutes after the voyage was announced, it was fully booked.

“Obviously the opportunity still exists of eventually acquiring another cruise liner to moor at the ore berth as a floating hotel, but that will not be an icon vessel like the QE2.”

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