UK group hopeful as Dubai may sell back decaying QE2
DUBAI // Campaigners working to return the once-glorious QE2 ocean liner to the UK from its berth in Dubai are hopeful the vessel will be sold to them.
Current owner Dubai World is reportedly “considering their options” over the future of Queen Elizabeth 2, which has been moored at Port Rashid in Dubai since 2008.
John Chillingworth is heading up QE2 London, a consortium that wants to transform one of the world’s most famous ships from its current run-down state into a 530-room five-star hotel and conference centre in the heart of London’s Docklands.
Mr Chillingworth was a chief engineer with the ship’s former operator, Cunard, and oversaw its planned conversion to a 400-room floating hotel to be moored off The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai before the project was shelved during the financial crisis in 2009.
He said the current value had been estimated at £3 million (Dh16.8m) but the conversion was likely to cost about £100m, a price that would include towing the ship to Europe and mooring it for another two years while plans are approved.
An initial phase would lead to 330 hotel rooms being completed at a cost of £60m so the ship could start generating revenue to help to pay for the remaining rooms.
Mr Chillingworth said: “Over the past five years we have tried to keep our activities mostly confidential, mainly not to upset Dubai.”
QE2 was acquired by Istithmar, an investment arm of the Dubai World conglomerate, for a reported $100 million (Dh367m)in November 2008.
Until June 2012, talks between the owners and QE2 London were making good progress, as moving the vessel to London was the only deal the then Dubai World directors had considered. It is understood they visited London twice to hold talks with the Mayor of London’s office.
However, then things stalled.
Mr Chillingworth said: “At that time Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of Istithmar, wanted to control the development of the ship in some form.
“He put out the press release in June 2012 stating QE2 was staying in Dubai as a hotel.
“This scuppered our discussions with London and investors. It took us six months to regenerate the interest but, by that time, in December 2012, it was too late as Dubai Dry Docks chairman Khamis Juma Buamim had got in with another proposal.”
It was widely reported in the UK that the plan was to sell the vessel to China for scrap.
“Mr Buamim left two months ago so we approach Dubai again and that’s when we were told that they are considering their options,” said Mr Chillingworth.
An alternative to QE2 London is a plan being formed by politicians in Scotland to bring the ship back to where it was built, on the banks of the river Clyde.
Inverclyde council leader Stephen McCabe said: “To see this once-magnificent flagship of the Cunard line languishing in a dock in Dubai is simply heartbreaking.
“Bringing the QE2 home is a herculean task but it is one that requires national support in Scotland, and perhaps across the UK, if it has any chance of happening.”
It is understood that when the QE2 arrived in Dubai in 2008, she was sold with a 10-year sell-on contract restricting any future purchase without the permission of the Carnival Group, of which Cunard is a part.
Louis de Sousa worked onboard the QE2 for almost a decade during the 1990s. “It was an amazing experience, with so many memories,” he said.
“The QE2 was a ship in her own league, simply the best, but … many in Dubai don’t even know the ship is at the docks.”
Dubai Dry Docks and Dubai World were unavailable for comment.
Updated: June 8, 2015 04:00 AM