SAD END FOR THE QUEEN OF THE SEAS
SHE is the greatest ship the world has ever known. The QE2 – the longest, widest, tallest, fastest and most expensive passenger liner ever built – made 26 circumnavigations of the globe and took more than three million passengers a staggering 5,875,264 nautical miles in glittering surroundings that were the epitome of luxury.
Every year nearly 20 tons of lobster and a ton of caviar were eaten on board, washed down with 70,000 bottles of the finest champagne. For those with still more money to spend, the ship’s shopping arcade had 11 designer label boutiques and a branch of Harrods.
Today, however, 50 years after she was launched, the once magnificent QE2 is a discarded shell taking on rainwater and slowly gathering rust alongside a spartan dockside in Dubai’s commercial harbour, Port Rashid.
At a distance – and that’s how the security guards like to keep inquisitive tourists – the former Cunard flagship looks as if she is ready to cast off at any moment, full steam ahead on what would be her 1,375th voyage. But close up the reality is tragically different.
Gone are the glorious days of pre-dinner cocktails in the Chart Room bar, formal meals at the captain’s table or late nights over liqueurs in the Yacht Club. No longer do bronzed couples on 80-day world cruises spend lazy hours on sunbeds or enjoy unhurried moonlit strolls around the teak deck.
As the Middle Eastern sun beats down on her, the QE2 is silent. Four years ago the last of her nine engines – the largest marine units ever built, each the size of a double decker bus and consuming 18 tons of fuel an hour – was turned off. No more wisps of smoke curl from her iconic black and red funnel.
Without power for lighting and air conditioning, the queen of the seas was condemned to a sad and lingering death. The most recent pictures taken on board show black mould growing across the ceilings of once luxurious staterooms.
A drum kit is all that remains on a bandstand where musicians once serenaded passengers and on one of the ship’s many stages sits a now-silent grand piano. In the former casino, slot machines stand with their lights out. Keeping watch over the deserted corridors is a portrait of the Queen, who launched the QE2 on Clydeside on September 20, 1967, and atop one of the stairwells is the ship’s colourful figurehead, Britannia.
After an illustrious career in which she represented all that is finest about Britain, played host to some of the world’s most famous names including Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Sellers, and even carried troops to the Falklands War, the QE2 inevitably reached the end.
She had sailed further than any ship in history – the equivalent of 14 return trips to the moon. The old lady had more than earned a restful retirement and there was joy when Cunard sold her to the UAE government conglomerate Dubai World for £64million in 2008. The ship was destined to become a luxury hotel.
But the sale came just as the world banking crisis exploded and Dubai was forced to put its plans on hold. In 2011 renovationn work was halted and the crew of construction workers was cut to 36. Two years later the last engine was turned off and the crew was paid off. Since then there has been no official word on the ship’s future although many fear increasingly that she has been doomed to the scrapyard.
CAMPAIGNER Rob Lightbody, of the online group The QE2 Story, believes she could be saved if she could be bought back from the Dubai government. “Its scrap value is decreasing and weighted against the cost of decontaminating the ship of asbestos it could probably be bought for £3million,” he said.
“The options now are to scrap it – but clearing it out would cost millions and millions – or just leave it somewhere. It’s just sitting in Dubai. Nothing has happened to it in the past two and a half years. There’s no power. There’s no air. She’s filthy.”
He said he would love to see the liner at rest somewhere associated with its transatlantic history (she made 806 crossings) such as Southampton, Liverpool, London or New York.
“For all of her service life she exuded taste, class and luxury more than any other liner. She was understated and comfortable in a truly British way. Her restaurants were equivalent to the very best hotels in the world and glorious food was served throughout the day and night. Her 1,800 passengers had more than 1,000 staff at their beck and call.”
The QE2 has had 25 different captains – masters as they are known – but the one with the strongest connection to the ship was Commodore Ron Watkins, Cunard’s most senior officer. Ron’s father Bill was the QE2’s first master, sailing her from her Clyde shipbuilders, and Ron was in command for her last journey from Southampton to Dubai. “My father put the QE2 together,” he said that day, “and I’m going to take her apart.”
Now retired, Ron speaks nostalgically of his family’s links to QE2. “First time I went aboard this whopping great ship I thought, well if you’ve got to go to sea this is
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The QE2 weighs 70,327 tonnes, is 963ft long, cost £29million to build in 1967 and carried 1,892 passengers and 1,040 crew. the one to go on. I loved the grandeur of it all. We were in the business of making people happy.”
He smiles as he recalls his first day in command in 1990. “As we entered the Solent the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh boarded from the Royal Yacht Britannia. After touring the ship, the Queen came to the bridge to witness my first docking.”
He was also in command for QE2’s last voyage to Dubai and on board were two former crew members, Maureen Ryan and Thomas Quinones. Maureen had worked as a stewardess on the maiden voyage in 1969 and said: “I just had to be here. QE2 has been my life.” Thomas worked on board for 25 years and said: “I have tried to keep back the tears, to be professional but this will never happen again. It is the ending of an era.”
Now the world’s most famous liner is an empty hulk. Workers near her berth say she is haunted by former passengers. Some claim that at night they hear children’s voices and there is an elderly white-haired lady who roams the carpeted hallways. The ghosts of a glorious past, no doubt.
SHIP’S COMPANY: The liner played host to many celebrities including, from left, actor Peter Sellers and Beatle Ringo Starr; David Bowie on his way to tour the US; and Princess Diana at a children’s party to mark the ship’s return to service in...