DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The cash-strapped Dubai owner of the QE2 is weighing plans to open the British ocean liner as a floating hotel elsewhere in the Middle East or Africa rather than in the struggling Persian Gulf sheikdom.
In an email Sunday, ship owner Nakheel told The Associated Press that other ports have expressed interest in hosting the vessel and that it is evaluating those options before going ahead with a planned refurbishment.
The property developer had originally planned to renovate the ship and turn it into a luxury hotel berthed alongside the company’s manmade, tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah island off the Dubai coast. It has been moored at Dubai’s downtown Port Rashid since its highly publicized arrival in November.
“In addition to alternative locations in Dubai, other ports in the Middle East and Africa have also expressed an interest in hosting this impressive maritime icon,” the company said.
Nakheel did not name possible ports for the ship or provide a reason for the move. It said it is seeking “to ensure opportunities to experience QE2 in her current condition are maximized whilst ensuring her important heritage is at all times protected.”
South Africa’s Business Day newspaper, citing a spokeswoman for the country’s tourism department, reported that Nakheel has applied to anchor the ship in Cape Town. The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Nakheel is struggling financially as a result of the global financial crisis and a steep drop in the city-state’s property market. It is one of two leading real estate developers in the emirate.
In March, the company sought to quell speculation it lacked the money to renovate the QE2, one of the world’s best known cruise liners. It said at the time it had commissioned a “time-consuming” engineering survey of the ship and remained committed to refurbishing it.
Still, the company has been forced to rethink even more ambitious plans in recent months. The developer has shelved numerous projects, such as a glitzy hotel with Donald Trump and a skyscraper designed to top a Dubai rival’s set to become the world’s tallest. The company has acknowledged taking a share of $10 billion in government bailout funds and is aggressively trying to re-negotiate existing contracts with suppliers.
Nakheel late last year announced it was cutting 500 jobs, or about 15 percent of its staff. Local media reports have suggested the layoffs have continued, with several hundreds more losing their jobs in recent weeks.
A Nakheel spokeswoman declined to say how many employees have been let go. In an email responding to staffing questions, the company said it is readjusting its business plans to better match supply with demand.
“Nakheel recently merged a number of its business units, which are now undergoing resource restructuring to ensure efficiency and optimization of skill and talent,” the company added.
Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, borrowed heavily during the boom years earlier this decade to pay for its rapid transformation from a dusty fishing village into a world-class commercial, financial and tourism hub.
The government releases little financial information, so international lenders are keeping a close eye on the health of state-owned Nakheel. In particular, analysts want to see how — or indeed whether — the company will be able to pay off $3.5 billion worth of debt coming due this year.
Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. It has traveled around 6 million miles, making more than 800 trans-Atlantic crossings and carrying 2.5 million passengers. In 2007, former owner Cunard agreed to sell the ship to Nakheel’s parent company for 50 million pounds (then worth $100 million).