HK to miss out on visit by world's biggest liner

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2003, 12:00am

Hong Kong will miss out on a visit by the world's largest cruise liner, the Queen Mary 2, on its maiden voyage next year because Ocean Terminal is not strong enough to allow the 150,000-tonne vessel to berth.

Ronald Warwick, who will be captain of the US$800 million (HK$6.2 billion) liner, accused the government of neglect for failing to upgrade its facilities, adding that Hong Kong was 'the only port in the world we really wanted to take her to'.

News that the QM2, which will carry 3,090 passengers and a crew of 1,253, will be unable to visit Hong Kong has re-ignited the long-running debate over the need for a new cruise terminal.

Captain Warwick, who is in Hong Kong as skipper of the Queen Elizabeth 2 before switching commands, said the QM2's owners, Cunard, discovered that Ocean Terminal was too weak as they planned the ship's maiden voyage.

'It is long enough but not strong enough,' he told the South China Morning Post. With Hong Kong ruled out of the schedule, the liner will now make its maiden voyage from its home port of Southampton to Madeira, the Canary Islands, Barbados, the Caribbean and Florida.

Captain Warwick, who has been a mariner with Cunard for 33 years, said Hong Kong had been 'neglecting something vital' by not providing modern cruise berth facilities.

'It's like a Catch-22 situation,' he said.

'Ships don't want to go to a port until the facilities are there and the ports won't invest until the ships come. There's a lot of competition [among ports] out there.'

Hong Kong was 'reluctantly ruled out' of the maiden voyage for the QM2, he said.

Captain Warwick said many ports had responded to the economic growth of the cruise industry, which over the past two decades had recorded a steady 8 per cent annual growth.

He said that cruise liner facilities in Dubai were magnificent, while Sydney provided a port 'right in the heart of town'. Ports with other good cruise facilities included Nagasaki, Melbourne and Auckland.

'Look at the number of new ships being built,' he added. 'There are three or four major new ships being launched every year. If a port sits back and ignores this . . . well, it's at their own [risk].'

Captain Warwick said every time he stood on the bridge of the QE2 and came around Lamma Channel and into the harbour, he saw new buildings going up and money being spent on offices and hotels - but no new cruise terminal.

Nevertheless, he said the Ocean Terminal pier - which opened in 1966 when ships were much smaller - was better than some. 'We will still come here [with ships other than the QM2] even if you don't get a better wharf. But there are so many good terminals that Hong Kong is in danger of being left behind.'

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced 18 months ago that a new terminal was planned.

In October, the Territory Development Department completed a detailed study on proposals for a tourist complex on the Kai Tak site that would include a cruise terminal that could handle huge new liners such as the QM2.


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