November 27, 2009, 10am, Dubai Cruise Terminal, Port Rashid:
It is the 1st Anniversary of the QE2’s arrival in Dubai, and what a stark contrast it is to last year: No welcome flotilla, no arrival celebrations, no champagne corks popping, no red carpets rolled out for the dignitaries anxiously awaiting her arrival, no media waiting to buzz the photos of her docking around the world, no curious locals hoping for a glimpse of the famous ocean liner that had been making front page headlines for the past weeks, no bagpipes playing, no cheering passengers standing on the decks and waving flags – nothing. Just the humming of the generators. The QE2 was scheduled to arrive at 6am on Nov 27th, 2009 but eventually she arrived ahead of schedule in the afternoon of the 26th so that the locals could arrange for a welcome flotilla to greet her into the port. The handover ceremony between Cunard and Nakheel took place on the ship in the early afternoon of Nov 27th.
The Dubai Cruise Terminal, where QE2 is docked, is located in this part of Port Rashid.
I am standing in front of my beloved ocean liner, and I am not embarrassed to admit it, I have knots in my throat and tears in my eyes. It is my first reunion with the QE2 since I saw her last year coming into the port, finishing her final voyage from Southampton to Dubai. Seeing the Queen in her full splendour is simply breathtaking.
The QE2 is docked about 500 metres from the Dubai Cruise Terminal, access to this area is very restricted.
The flag of Vanuatu is flying and the stern shows Port Vila as port of registration.
I am holding my very own anniversary celebrations: Walking her full length from bow to stern and back, scrutinizing the ship for signs of neglect and taking as many photos as I can. I won’t be getting any closer. I am very happy to report that the ship is looking stunning as ever and that she appears to be well cared for. Her exteriors are in excellent condition as far as I can see. In my mind I am replaying onboard scenes and wonderful moments aboard: The formal dinners, afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks in the Chart Room, late nights in the Yacht Club, lazy hours on the sun deck and gentle strolls around the deck – and getting lost…. The gangway to one of the three open doors on Five Deck is decorated with a golden tub that holds a green plant which is causing me to smile: It’s a very nice gesture!
One of the gangways is decorated with a plant – I think it is a nice touch. However, the security guards inside the ship make sure no one is ‘welcome aboard’.
While I am taking a peak inside I can hear the Queen whispering: ‘Come, come on board, cut my ropes lose and take me on a World Cruise. Next stop Hong Kong….’ Oh, I wished!!! I touch her to give her the love of my friends before I was shooed away by the security guards: ‘No intruders please’. Intruders! There was a time I was a welcome guest enjoying formal dinners and ballroom dancing…
I am calling a friend on the US West Coast who stayed awake all night to hear from me, and I describe the atmosphere, the location and most important, the ship: She’s alive!!! A set of engines in running, smoke is billowing from her funnel and the lights in the restaurants are switched on. Many window blinds are pulled down to protect the interior from the relentless sun. The blue chairs on the sun deck are neatly stacked. She is well looked after. We both almost start crying. Not a soul outside. It is quiet, almost tranquil. No scenes of a bustling and hustling cruise terminal.
Smoke is billowing from the famous black and red funnel and many windows are covered to protect the interior from the merciless sun.
Someone forgot to remove the Cunard logo on the tender!
The lights are switched on in the restaurants and other public areas.
The blue deck chairs are neatly stacked on the sun deck.
The Cunard logo is long gone.
The entire ship looks scrubbed and clean. No Nakheel flag flying.
Take a bow…
The imposing superstructure
The Dubai Cruise Terminal area is deserted during the Eid holiday. The port is expecting a cruise ship today and one on the 29th. The season has not started yet. Behind the QE2, approximately 500 metres away, the AIDA Diva from Germany arrived in the early morning hours.
The AIDA Diva docked earlier in the morning. Cruise ships calling on Dubai are docked behind the QE2. Their web cams usually get an excellent view of the QE2’s stern and funnel.
Most passengers have already disembarked and were carted off to their next or final destination. A fence prevents them from veering into the secured area of the QE2. I wanted to find out if they were interested in the ship and what they thought about her being here. While waiting to pass the next security level I can speak to various passengers, neither of them know who the QE2 is or cannot be bothered. One gentlemen thinks she is already in Capetown, another couple wants to know where I am going and wishes me bon voyage on the QE2.
The area around the QE2 is clean, tidy, no clutter lying around, and no equipment that indicates any activities. My two colleagues and I are the only visitors today to mark the 1st
anniversary of her arrival. It feels like she is almost forgotten in Dubai. She is certainly not forgotten in the books of Dubai World who own Nakheel; but it is quite obvious she is no longer on the minds of the local people: None of whom I spoke to take any interest in the ship or admit they are not informed about her current situation. It’s exactly as I predicted in my post ‘Dubai – End of a Voyage’
a year ago: She will briefly make headlines but soon will end up on the last page of the news papers like an actress whose celebrity status dropped from A to C.
We are spending as much time as possible in the area and make the most of it. There was a lot of red tape cutting required to get here. The QE2 area is a secured area; one can’t just walk or drive in to take photos. I owe big thanks to my colleagues in Dubai whose excellent connections with the Dubai Port Authorities and the Dubai Cruise Terminal Management enabled me to pass all pre-clearances in order to receive approval for access. DTCM provided us with two possible dates for a visit, the 27th or the 29th and I didn’t have to consider twice which date I wanted. It had to be the 27th, the anniversary date! The approval was given a couple of days before my visit, yet I have to pass 3 security levels: First the call at gate security to get into the cruise terminal area, then the check in with port security to obtain a pass for which they withheld my passport, and only after the last hurdle, ship security is taken, I am free to walk dockside and take photos.
My dear colleagues, thank you all for making this special day possible, you know who you are!!!
As we are leaving the cruise terminal, I am catching a final glimpse of the QE2, bathing in the sun and wondering about her future fate.
Just shortly after we leave the terminal I receive an email from a friend with a link to an article in The Telegraph
which announces the possibility of the QE2 being sold by Nakheel in an effort to pay off some of the mounting debt. I quickly grab some of the local newspapers: Khaleej Times, Gulf Post, 7 Days
– they all talk about Dubai World’s request to suspend its debt payments for six months while it undergoes fundamental restructuring. The group has an overall debt of $59 billion dollars, which comprises three-quarters of the Emirate’s total debt of $80 billion. The QE2 is considered a none-core asset like many other DP property investments and may be sold. What a royal tragedy: The high-profile “trophy asset’ has turned into a severe liability with an uncertain future…
At the moment, I just wonder about potential buyers who are prepared to invest millions into an acquisition of the ocean liner. Who would want her? Probably many. Who can afford her? Probably only few. Whilst I am not a pessimist by nature, I have these images of Alang ‘beach’ in my mind – a heart breaking thought.
The signs of bankruptcy have been there for a while – now the wake up call has come! In my opinion, Nakheel was already feeling the results of the credit crunch by the time the QE2 arrived in Dubai last year. The Trump Tower on Jumeirah Palm had just been put on hold, a day after the arrival newspapers announced that Nakheel was going to make 500 employees redundant. Many of my friends lost their work. I didn’t believe at the time that Nakheel had the financial means to pursue the ambitious plans that leaked to the press before her arrival. Throughout the year the company played their cards close to the chest. Their policy to communicate as little as necessary about future plans resulted in a flurry of gossips and rumours which kept the ocean liner forums busy debating possible scenarios. In a nutshell: Speculations were rife and in abundance, newspapers were citing ‘from reliable sources close to the decision makers’ which later turned out to be hot air. Remember those absurd plans to sail the ship back to Bremerhaven and have her cut up in 2 parts to insert an extension and tug her back to the UK? The plans to replace the red and black funnel with a glass penthouse which so infuriated the liner community? The online auctions where ship models of future designs were offered, stories of a possible investor in the UK who wanted to bring her back to Southampton? The recent announcement to transfer the QE2 to Cape Town as a floating hotel during the World Soccer Games 2010. This was possibly a last attempt to turn the idle ship into a money maker and to recoup some of the investment. Apart from the Cape Town move, most of the news was speculation. As of today, the future has become even more uncertain, if not even worse. One thing is for sure: The gossip kitchen will remain busy.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see the ship one more time as I want to remember her: As the grandest and finest ocean liner in the world.
I’ve taken a lot more photos and posted them in the Cunard Queens Galleries .