Dubai plans Asian home for famed QE2 luxury liner

After more than four years sitting idle in a Dubai port, the storied passenger liner Queen Elizabeth 2 is bound again for the high seas as part of deal to convert the vessel into a luxury hotel in Asia, officials said Thursday.

The precise destination of the QE2 was not announced. But a map noted its planned voyage ending in China, raising speculation of seaports such as Shanghai or Hong Kong.

"We promise to take good care of her," said Daniel Chui, managing director of the Oceanic Group, a Singapore-based maritime company leading the renovation of the vessel into a 500-room hotel.

The deal marks the latest twist in the fate of the QE2, which has been docked in Dubai since it was purchased by the state investment company Istithmar World in 2007 for $100 million at the height of the city's boom era. In July, plans were announced to keep the vessel in Dubai as a hotel and hub of a seafaring center.

But Dubai's economic rebound has been spotty and officials have already pledged huge investments into new entertainment and retails projects, including theme parks and a planned mall to outshine the Dubai Mall that's now billed as the world's largest.

It's also another sign of the expanding economic influence of China, which has a fast-growing tourism sector that already includes a host of themed resorts such as a recreation of a Swiss alpine village.

There is no firm timetable for the QE2's journey east. First, it will undergoing full checks for seaworthiness in Dubai that could take up to three months, said Khamis Juma Buamin, chairman of shipyard operator Drydocks World.

The interior of the ship has been meticulously maintained since its last voyage in late 2008 and Dubai will retain ownership of the vessel after its conversion to a hotel. Buamin said technicians will now do any needed upgrades to the hull, engine and other systems. He gave no cost estimate, but noted it will be "a lot" to get the more than 45-year-old ship ready for the seas.

"Once we are finished with it, she'll be 18 years old again," Buamin told reporters.

After that, millions will be spent to restore the rest of the ship to its "glory days," said Chui.

The ship's fate has been the subject of intense speculation since its arrival in Dubai in November 2008. Officials had long avoided addressing 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 sold for scrap.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. Since it went into service in 1969, the ship has made at least 26 round-the-world voyages.

Dubai officials also leave open the possibly that the ship could one day return.

"It's a global ship," said Buamin. "This ship may come back to Dubai. This is what ships do. Ships have to travel."