Ocean Park's financial crisis looks set to deepen as it prepares to announce an estimated deficit of more than $50 million for the year to June. The troubled park says the deficit, more than double the $24 million in 1999, will widen the accumulated deficit to $192 million for the past four years and drain its $144 million reserve fund. The deficit, mainly due to rising operating costs, will be accompanied by a forecast fall in visitor numbers, expected to drop below three million for the first time since 1999. The park predicts that if nothing is done to redress the situation it could lose a further one million visitors to Disneyland when it opens in 2005. The continuing deficit and the Disneyland challenge has alarmed the park's board, which formed a taskforce late last year to seek solutions. The taskforce submitted a proposal to the Government six weeks ago to rejuvenate the park by allowing it to form a strategic partnership with an internationally known theme park or aquarium. Park board chairman Philip Chen Nam-luk said Ocean Park needed a famous brand name to repackage itself on a par with Disneyland. 'It could create a brand effect and would help build the SAR as the tourism focus in Asia by having two major tourist attractions in the region,' he said. Choices for partners could include Sea World on the Gold Coast, Queensland, or in Florida, or Universal Studios in Los Angeles. It is understood these potential partners are interested in co-operating, but talks cannot be held until the Government agrees to the proposal. By introducing a strategic partner, Mr Chen said they also could attract other businesses to develop the Aberdeen area into a comprehensive tourist spot, with Ocean Park as the main focus. But he also called on the Government to upgrade the Aberdeen facilities and infrastructure to prepare for the proposed changes. 'If the area is going to develop into a major tourist spot we cannot have vacant and old factory buildings, shipyards and laundries in our backyard,' he said. Mr Chen added the lack of convenient transport in Southern District had also placed the area at a disadvantage. 'It seems it is more convenient for people living in Kowloon to go to Shenzhen rather than Ocean Park,' he said. The park has been eyeing the development of the Aberdeen area but is confined by its legal status to operating within the park area. It is now seeking government consent to amend the Ocean Park Corporation Ordinance to allow more flexibility for it to operate other businesses. It is understood the Government has agreed to amend the ordinance, but it will not be tabled to the legislature before April. A spokesman for the Home Affairs Bureau said officials were still considering Ocean Park's proposal.