QE2 liner may return to Hong Kong as a floating hotel
Ship will be back in summer on its way to mainland dockyard to be refitted, with choice of Hong Kong or Singapore as its initial base
The iconic luxury passenger liner Queen Elizabeth 2 is set to return to Hong Kong this summer on its way to a mainland shipyard, where it will be refitted to become a floating hotel.
The former Cunard flagship, which visited the city several times before being retired in 2008 and sold to the Dubai investment company Istithmar World, is likely to stay for several days in July or August.
Daniel Chui, managing director of Singapore's Oceanic Group, said talks are continuing to bring the ship back to Hong Kong once the conversion work has been completed.
Hong Kong and Singapore are the two cities being considered for the ship's initial base as a floating hotel.
"The perfect location is definitely Hong Kong or Singapore," Chui said: both cities have a shortage of hotel rooms and a large number of tourist arrivals. The ship could itself become a tourist attraction.
A longer-term plan also being considered is for the QE2, which served as a troop ship during the 1982 Falklands war, to make a circuit, spending "X years in Hong Kong, Y years in Japan and Z years in South Korea", Chui said.
He remained confident the QE2 would be a financial success, saying it offered a better internal rate of return than a conventional land-based hotel. The refitting, including work by shipyards in Dubai and on the mainland, will cost US$100 million.
Chui would not be drawn on whether Hong Kong or Singapore was preferred initially, saying there were many stakeholders involved and "we have already started discussions" in both cities. He said Oceanic still had about 15 months to decide, given the time it would take to complete the refurbishment.
The talks involve Hong Kong's Tourism Commission and Tourism Board, together with their counterparts in Singapore.
Worldwide Flight Services, one of the members of the consortium which will operate and manage the Kai Tak cruise terminal, has been helping Oceanic.
Oceanic heads a group of investors which is leasing the QE2 from its Dubai owners for about US$1 million a year. The firm has an option to buy the ship for about US$35 million at the end of this decade, when a "no onward sale" clause contained in the ship sale contact between Cunard and Istithmar expires.
Chui said the ship, which sailed nearly 9.6 million kilometres and carried 2.5 million passengers during its 39-year career, is at Drydocks World in Dubai, where seven of its nine diesel engines are being overhauled, along with other equipment. He said it will take a further three to four months before the work is completed and the QE2 can sail for China.
Oceanic, which has experience refurbishing and upgrading passenger ships in China, has shortlisted "a few shipyards" to bid for the refurbishment of the liner to a floating hotel. These are thought to include Guangzhou Wenchong, part of the state-owned CSSC group, as well as shipyards around Shanghai.
The work is expected to take about 15 months.
Chui, who speaks passionately about what was once the fastest liner afloat, said the QE2 originally had 950 cabins, which were home to royalty, heads of state and film and pop stars.
Once the refurbishment is completed, there will be 400 deluxe rooms of 40 to 100 square metres and 100 suites of 100 to 150 sq metres. There will 4,600 to 9,200 sq metres of retail space, featuring "luxury brands of European heritage", in addition to the ship's seven restaurants, two ballrooms and cinema, Chui said.