“Life begins at forty for the grand old dame of the ocean,” a Dubai TV reporter says repeatedly as she tries in vain not to fluff her lines. Standing at Port Rashid with the iconic Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner in the background — or QE2 as she is known to her millions of fans — British expatriates waved Union Jack flags and fireworks lit up the sky as one of the world’s most famous ships finally arrived in Dubai, exactly 40 years to the day from when she first went to sea on her preliminary trials on 26 November 1968.
Bought in 2007 by Istithmar, the investment arm of the state-owned Dubai World, for a reported $100m, it was billed as the latest great asset to join the roll-call of trophies the glamorous emirate had collected during the height of the boom years.
Jumping forward to 2013, the ocean liner has been left literally to bob away in the seas of the Gulf while it awaits its final fate. Several new projects and ideas have been suggested and quickly dropped over the last four years and the prized trophy asset has now became an anchor around Dubai’s neck as the emirate struggles to decide what to do with the much-loved ocean liner.
As the ship’s millions of fans woke up on Christmas Day for their annual overindulgence, reports mounted that Dubai had sold the cruise liner as scrap to a Chinese firm.
British media reports claimed a Chinese crew of 20 had boarded the ship and the QE2 was expected to go into dry dock in the Far East as part of a $20m deal.
The British ship’s legacy is not one to be dismissed lightly. Launched by Queen Elizabeth II on September 1967, she is the longest-serving ship in Cunard’s nearly 200-year history, has undertaken 25 world cruises, has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and has carried more than 2.5 million passengers.
Passengers have included kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, astronauts and the Beatles, and during her many years of service, she survived a 95-foot wave during Hurricane Luis in 1995 and was converted to carry 3,000 troops to the Falklands War. But now it seems that the QE2 is set to celebrate her fiftieth anniversary in five years time in a Far Eastern scrap yard.
This is all in contrast to the high aspirations that existed back in 2008. “QE2 is without a doubt one of the wonders of the maritime world, and is easily the most famous serving liner in the world today. I am delighted we will be able to create a home for her on the newest wonder of the world, the Palm Jumeirah,” Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai World, said at the time.
His words came less than a week after the Palm Jumeirah celebrated the launch of the Atlantis Hotel, with a spectacular $20m red carpet launch party, attended by hundreds of celebrities and spectacular fireworks. The arrival of the QE2 was seen by many as the last big party before the global financial crisis landed in Dubai. Shortly afterwards, its property market went into freefall and the true extent of the emirate’s debt mountain began to emerge.
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