DUBAI (AFP) – The cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was welcomed to its final destination of Dubai on Wednesday where it will be transformed into a luxurious floating hotel in the booming Gulf emirate.
The QE2, which sailed on its last voyage from its former home port of Southampton in England, was greeted by a large flotilla of private craft including the giant yacht My Dubai, owned by the emirate’s ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum.
The British-flagged QE2 will now be completely refurbished and turned into a five-star hotel to be moored at the Palm Jumeirah complex, the world’s largest man-made palm-shaped island off the coast of Dubai.
UAE coast guards and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster were among those escorting the liner into Mina Rashed port.
A fire boat hosed water skywards to salute her, and an Emirates superjumbo A380 made a low flypast.
Hundreds of passengers who travelled on the final voyage stood on the deck of the 70,000-tonne QE2, cheering and waving British flags.
“This is a magnificent tourist attraction,” said Johann Schumacher, the managing director of Palm Jumeirah, adding that the refit is expected to take up to three years.
The liner will eventually be tugged to a special pier on Palm Jumeirah, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Mina Rashed.
US cruise operator Cunard sold the QE2 for about 50 million pounds (67 million euros, 99 million dollars) in November last year to Istithmar, the investment arm of state-owned company Dubai World.
On Thursday, the ceremonial flag changing will take place, and Cunard will officaly hand over the ownership of QE2 to Nakheel, a branch of Dubai World.
Before leaving Southampton on November 11, the QE2 took part in commemorations marking the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, joined invited guests and crew on board to observe a two-minute silence to mark the Armistice anniversary.
Thousands of spectators gathered on the shore to send the vessel on its way against a backdrop of fireworks after a day of goodbyes marred only when she ran aground on a sandbank before being freed about 40 minutes later.
Launched by her namesake in September 1967, the QE2 was Cunard’s longest-serving ship. The 963-feet- (294-metre) long ship can carry up to 1,778 passengers and more than 1,000 crew.
She has travelled 5.5 million nautical miles — the equivalent of to the moon and back 13 times — and has undertaken 25 world cruises, crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and carried more than two million passengers.