DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has settled on a use for the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner it bought for $100 million five years ago, with plans to turn it into a floating hotel fitted with many of the storied vessel's original furnishings.
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The ship will remain in the city state's downtown Port Rashid facility to serve as a tourist magnet alongside a proposed maritime museum and an expanding cruise ship terminal complex, officials said Monday.
The plans are a twist on a more ambitious previous proposal to significantly overhaul the ship and convert it into a luxury hotel docked alongside one of the sheikdom's manmade palm-shaped islands. Developers shelved those plans when Dubai's economy tumbled into crisis.
The chairman of the Dubai state company that owns the ship, Istithmar World, said he expects the 300-room hotel to open within 18 months. Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told reporters the company realized visitors want to see the QE2 as it originally looked, so does not expect to carry out major renovations or remove fixtures still onboard.
"We are not making major changes. We will preserve its tradition and the way it was," he said at a news conference near the ship's mooring. "It's a great vessel and it will continue its journey to serve the tourist sector in Dubai."
The ship's fate has been the subject of intense speculation since its arrival in November 2008. Officials have long been reluctant to address questions about its future, even as it sat unused and suggestions swirled that it could be moved to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup or even sold for scrap.
This past New Year's Eve, an event planning company hosted a black-tie bash onboard that included live music, fireworks and a laser light show. That was the first time the ship had hosted a large group of guests since it pulled into port.
Istithmar bought the QE2 from the Cunard cruise line for $100 million in 2007. The company is part of Dubai World, the state conglomerate at the center of Dubai's 2009 financial meltdown. Istithmar has been working to reduce its debt load, and in May lost control of upscale retailer Barneys New York as part of a deal with creditors.
Bin Sulayem dismissed concerns about the cost of converting the QE2 into a working hotel, though he declined to say who was paying. Neither Istithmar nor the city-state's profitable port operator DP World, which Bin Sulayem also chairs, are paying for the project, he said.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. Since it went into service in 1969, the QE2 has made at least 26 round-the-world voyages.
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