March 18, 2009

QE2 may open at Dubai berth 'before refurbishment'

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The QE2 is set to be opened to visitors in Dubai before any refurbishment, after a campaign by enthusiasts of the Clyde-built liner.

New owner Nakheel admitted yesterday that it was considering the move, reversing a previous decision to mothball the ship before her conversion to a luxury hotel and museum complex.

The development follows reports that the global economic downturn could force Nakheel to rethink or even abandon its plans for the liner.

There is now speculation that a simpler option for the Dubai government-owned corporation would be to follow the model of the Queen Mary in California, which remains largely unchanged from her original design, and still proves a massive tourist draw.

Representatives of Nakheel are known to have been in America last month where they met members of the family that bought the original Queen Elizabeth from Cunard, before selling her on to developers in Hong Kong where she was destroyed by fire.

The company made no reference to that suggestion yesterday, but said in a statement: "In the light of huge popular interest and in response to a number of requests, Nakheel is investigating the possibility of opening the QE2 to visitors in her current condition for a short period of time before her refurbishment begins."

A firm decision is expected within weeks.

In November, when it took over ownership of the QE2 from Cunard in a £55m deal, Nakheel told The Herald that it planned to make her the centrepiece of a spectacular British-themed development at the ultra-luxurious Palm Jumeirah resort in Dubai.

But just a month later, the corporation was forced to make 500 staff redundant and put several major projects on hold.

The liner has remained at the Port Rashid dock where she berthed on arrival, and, in February, when pressed by The Herald, the company would say only that it was "investigating all options".

In the latest statement, Nakheel said there were currently no plans to move her and stressed that a maintenance programme had been keeping the ship in good condition.

"This involves keeping at least one engine running to provide power and lighting and to ensure that air is circulating properly throughout the ship to avoid unnecessary deterioration of, in particular, the key historic areas of the ship which Nakheel will be restoring and preserving."

Rob Lightbody, who runs The QE2 Story website, said: "If this goes ahead, I will definitely be going out there to see her one last time.

"I have no interest in visiting Dubai itself, but I will go to see the ship, and I am sure that many other people will too.

"We have no interest in going to see her if a huge amount of money is spent on making massive changes. But if she is the same, or has just had a general makeover, there will be a huge interest.

"And I think it is public pressure that is responsible for this. I think it made the company realise just how popular she is."

Mr Lightbody said he would welcome a Queen Mary style approach. "I went to Long Beach and it was amazing. Huge parts of her were still original," he added.

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