Whatever Happened to the QE2?
The Cruising Queen
One of a kind. The Queen Elizabeth 2, or simply QE2 carried the Cunard name for forty years. As a smaller more nimble vessel, she was the answer to the market forever changed by air travel. Named after the original RMS Queen Elizabeth, the QE2 was hailed as the last true trans-Atlantic liner. She was to be Cunard's answer to the only kind of passenger shipping industry left, cruising.
By the time the 1960s rolled around, huge ocean liners were no longer profitable. Ships like the SS United States were retired and lines were turning to cargo transport to stay in business. Cunard's own liners, the famous RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth were just as bad off. Both liners were relics of the pre World War II era and extremely expensive to operate by the 1960s.
In order to stay in the passenger business, Cunard needed a smaller more economic ship. They decided to gamble $80 million on this new vessel. She would be designed to run at the same speed but burn half the fuel. Crew would also be reduced and this new ship would be able to use the Panama Canal, unlike her predecessors, and therefore dock at far more ports. Also she would be a hybrid vessel, capable of reconfiguring from a two-class vessel in the summers to a single class vessel in the winters. She would not carry the 'RMS' designation before her name like her predecessors. As a cruise ship she would not carry mail.
Construction began in July 1965 in Scotland. Two years later, she would be christened and launched by Queen Elizabeth II. By that time, Cunard already pulled RMS Queen Mary from service in preparation and the original RMS Queen Elizabeth would be pulled once the QE2 was ready for her maiden voyage.
Launched in 1967 and commissioned a year later in 1968 the QE2 was ready for her shake down cruise beginning in April 1969.
Almost immediately the QE2's shakedown exposed serious problems with the vessel. Violent vibrations rattled the ship throughout due to poorly designed turbine rotors. They were so bad that Cunard refused to accept delivery of the ship and sent it back to the shipyard for four months while the rotors were replaced. The delay forced Cunard to postpone the QE2's maiden voyage to May 9, 1969. In addition, one of her officers, a 39-year-old hotel officer collapsed and died in his cabin as the shakedown cruise was ending.
Maiden Voyage & Early Career
Her maiden voyage finally commenced on May 2, 1969. Taking the traditional route from Southhampton to New York, the QE2's voyage lasted just over four days. She arrived to huge fan far as this new liner went into the history books as Cunard's newest flagship.
A couple years into her career, the QE2 while cruising in the Caribbean, responded to a distress call of the cruise ship SS Antilles. Despite her full load of passengers and crew, the QE2 responded. When she arrived, they discovered Antilles fully engulfed in flames from stem to stern. Around her were dozens of lifeboats. All passengers and crew were able to escape with no serious injuries. The QE2 carried these survivors to port where they were disembarked.
One year later in 1972, Cunard's New York office received an anonymous call from an individual claiming to have hidden six bombs aboard the QE2 and promptly demanded $350,000 for their removal.
The Cunard reacted immediately and seriously considering the ship was in the middle of the Atlantic with 1,500 people on board. They contacted Captain William Law who immediately ordered the ship on lockdown while the crew conducted a search. When they came up empty handed, the FBI and the Ministry of Defense were brought in.
The captain informed the passengers of the potential bomb threat and that a bomb disposal team was on their way. A British Special Forces bomb disposal team was indeed dispatched and parachuted onto the QE2 via C-130. They began the tedious task of combing the ship for explosive devices. One suitcase was found whose owner could not be tracked down. When the bomb squad blew it open, it only contained dirty laundry. After searching all night with no results, the team concluded it to be a hoax. The man who sparked the entire crisis was later identified by the FBI and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Like the Queens before her, the QE2 did see a brief career as a troop transport during the Falklands War. In 1982, she was summoned for naval duty by the British Military. Her size, speed and capacity made her ideal for carrying the 4,000 troops needed in the South Atlantic.
A week long conversion of the cruise ship began which included installing two helipads on her decks, an armored belt along her beam, anti aircraft guns and conversion of lounges into dorms. By April 1982 she was sailing to the South Atlantic with 3,000 troops on board. In the end the QE2 would make only one voyage to the Falklands and back. The journey totaled 16,000+ miles, by the time the QE2 returned to Britain, the Argentinians surrendered and the war ended.
After just one month as a troop ship, the QE2 was sent to the shipyard to be returned to civilian service, a process that would take nine weeks. During the restoration refit, Cunard took the opportunity to modernize the QE2, including her funnel. Originally Cunard had chosen to move away from its traditional colors and styles in the 1960s, painting the funnel black and white instead of Cunard Red. Her restoration refit saw her funnel Cunard Red for the first time.
The Falklands War was a brief battle between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands, one of the last British commonwealths.
A year after the Falklands War, the QE2 found herself back in the shipyard with major mechanical problems following her annual refit. Boiler problems and an electrical fire which caused a ship wide power loss forced Cunard to pull her for a significant overhaul. Pumping $162 million into her, this would be the biggest refit yet. Her entire power plant would be replaced. No longer steam/oil powered, she would be diesel powered. Nine diesel engines and new screws would replace her steam boilers and oil tanks. This conversion would add another 20 years to the QE2's life. In addition, all passenger cabins and lounges were modernized and the ship received all new electrical systems.
Emerging from her eight month refit state of the art once again, the QE2's sea trials revealed a new top speed of 34 knots and was far more fuel efficient. She reentered service in April 1987.
Decade of Infamy
The 1990s were the infamy years for the QE2. The Cunard Line itself was ailing. Failed attempts to break into the cargo industry the previous decade resulted in the once mighty line to report loses and cause internal chaos. This had a rippling effect on the QE2. Her annual refits in the first few years of the 90s were hurried and someone incomplete. The overall decor became less and less uniform.
In August 1992, the ship's infamy hit a milestone, quite literally. Bound for New York from a Canadian cruise the QE2 ran aground just off Martha's Vineyard at 9:58PM Friday Night on an uncharted rock formation. The rocks tore a series of gashes across 275 feet of QE2's keel. The damage was similar to the that RMS Titanic suffered 80 years earlier. Four of the ship's holding tanks were breached and she began taking on water. The grounding was in fact so violent that it forced oil up the ship's funnel and covered the upper decks with residue.
The US Coast Guard immediately responded to the QE2's distress calls. Thankfully they determined the ship to be in no danger of sinking. They ordered an evacuation as a precaution. 570 people were evacuated by more than a dozen ferryboats that had been circling the ship ever since the distress call was sent out.
Because one of the breached tanks held oil, fears arose that the QE2 would become an ecological emergency. After the Coast Guard's inspection they found that the tank had not breached.
The PR damage proved far worse. The grounding made headlines around the world and people were shocked. The QE2 was the most famous ship afloat, nothing bad ever happens to her. The damage needed 10 days to repair. The QE2's subsequent cruise from New York to Southampton was canceled, leaving passengers furious. Refunds and legal costs mounted.
Christmas Cruise from Hell
Infamy continued into 1994 with the QE2's worst voyage of her career. The ship was meant for a lavish Christmas-New Years Caribbean cruise. A huge money maker for Cunard. Passengers started to arrive only to find the QE2's $45 million refit unfinished and a mess. Worse, the ship began to develop problems with its pumping system. A subsequent Coast Guard inspection found the ship to be in violation of multiple safety and fire regulations. The verdict handed down was disastrous; grounded until further notice. Cunard was left with a mess on their hands. Passengers ended up suing the line two separate times, once in the US and the other in the UK, for the hell voyage and Cunard, along with mounting legal fees, dropped millions in compensations. Ultimately the CEO of Cunard resigned.
By 1995 Cunard continued to bleed money, especially after the QE2 Grounding and Christmas Cruise. Eager to recapture some glory for the ship, another multi-million dollar refit was carried out for the QE2's upcoming 1,000 voyage which modernized much of the QE2's splendor. The aft swimming pool was replaced with a large buffet dining area. In addition, a large model of the old RMS Mauretania was added to the Mauretania Cafe. Refit complete, the 1,000th voyage began with huge fanfare in June 1995. Five days travel across the Atlantic was enough to regain some prominence for both Cunard and the QE2.
The Queen Mary 2
By 1998, Cunard was sold to the cruise giant Carnival, an action that silenced many of the rumors that were then headlining tabloids about the QE2's future. Many were convinced the ship was at the end of its life given age and reputation. After a $30 million refit to update her passenger spaces once again, the QE2 entered her twilight years as the Cunard flagship. A new vessel would soon be built to replace her, the Queen Mary 2.
Announced just one year after Carnival took ownership of Cunard as Project Queen Mary, the QM2 would be the biggest ocean liner ever built and take the cruising industry as defined by the QE2 to the next level. Double the size, the QM2 trumpeted the return of massive true liners to the oceans, ships that 30 years earlier were considered obsolete.
With the QM2's launching in 2004, the Cunard days for the QE2 were officially numbered. The industry that she helped craft was now moving well beyond what she could do. 2004 began a series of milestones as the QE2 broke the record for Cunard's longest serving trans-atlantic liner, a record held by the old RMS Aquatania. A year later she became Cunard's long ever, breaking RMS Scythia's record. Finally in 2007 she would hit her 40th birthday and rendezvous with her successor QM2 for the very first time.
Retirement and Sale
Retirement was finally forced upon the QE2 after radical changes in international safety regulations rendered her obsolete. In 2007, Cunard announced the impending sale of the QE2 to an investment company in Dubai for $100 million. Her new owners' plan would be to feature the QE2 in their concept for a floating hotel and tourist attraction.
For her final voyage, the QE2 met up with the QM2 and newly launched MS Queen Victoria in New York Harbor. The event made world headlines. She would be escorted to Southhampton by the Queen Victoria and she was met by hundreds of boats and yachts. Departing for Dubai a few weeks later marked one of the biggest landmark events in recent memory. Thousands watched the QE2 depart under a lavish fireworks display.
QE2's Farewell Voyage
2008 Financial Crisis
The infamous 2008 Financial Crisis and Great Recession would have a profound effect on the QE2 and her future. Plans and conversion were intended to begin shortly after arriving in Dubai. She was dry docked and renovated in 2009 with the intention to sail to her destination port.
As the lasting effects of the crisis continued, the plans were shelved at the last moment. She would be berthed at Port Rashid and put into 'warm' layup. Rumors began to heavily circulate that the QE2 was destined for the scrapyard. They were so numerous that her Dubai owners issued a serious of press releases to the contrary. Despite this, the QE2 soon faded into obscurity as the years rolled on.
Photo Tour of the QE2 in 2011 Warm Lay Up
- QE2 Dubai April 2011 | Flickr
At the end of April 2011, a journalist was extremely privileged to be allowed on board the former Cunarder Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) after she had been laid up in Port Rashid, Dubai for more than 2.5 years.
2009-2011 Warm Lay Up
Like a prison sentence, the QE2 remained chained to the docks at Port Rashid, access to her restricted, information about her scarce. The QM2, while on cruise, met the QE2 for the first time since her sale. Her passengers lined the rails eager to catch a glimpse of the exiled queen who had not moved since her docking. While still in warm lay up with a crew on board, the ship looked a little disheveled. Over the next year, the QE2 would met each of the active Cunard Queens, all observed the QE2 in the exact same spot.
At this point rumors of the QE2 continued to circle the globe:
- In 2009 a supposed concept model of a heavily altered QE2 for her Dubai hotel conversion went up for sale at Christie's Auction House.
- A rumor persisted amongst UK newspapers that the QE2 was returning to the QK as an operational cruise ship.
- The QE2's owners confirmed the ship would move to Cape Town, South Africa for hotel conversion and use for the 2010 World Cup.
Later in the 2009, the ship moved for the first time since her arrival to the Dubai Drydocks to repaint and prepare the ship for her voyage to South Africa. The voyage created excitement and the prospect of new jobs was welcomed. Yet as the year came to close, the ship's owners confirmed that the QE2 would not travel to South Africa.
2010 brought even more rumors as the ship's owners were apparently suffering major financial trouble. Their only official statement on the matter was that they were considering multiple cities to place the QE2 as a hotel. These cities ranged from London to Tokyo. All the while, the ship was maintained as seaworthy.
2011 began with a new wave of rumors that the QE2 would return to the UK as a floating hotel in Liverpool. These plans were soon shelved when their bid to the Dubai owners was rejected and the ship remained docked at Port Rashid.
July 2012, brought news of two floating hotel plans, one in Port Rashid and the other, in secret, in the UK. The plan would require an 18 month renovation to restore the QE2 to as close to original as possible to capitalize on her heritage. For the next six months, nothing was believed to have changed. Then in December, a surprise. The warm lay up crew was served with notice to vacate and the ship had been sold to a Chinese scrapper. Cunard itself stepped in to remind the public that the original $100 million purchase agreement had a 10 year 'no onward sale' clause without paying the original sale price as a penalty. The folks behind the UK plan made an emergency bid which was rejected.
After the publicity firestorm, in January 2013, the Dubai owners announced that the ship would not be scrapped but sent to an undisclosed location in Asia for a hotel conversion. Yet these plans never seemed to materialize and 2013 and 2014 passed with no movement or news.
2015 Bring QE2 Home
Cunard's 175th Birthday sent a worldwide wave of renewed interest in the QE2. Multiple proposals in the UK were discussed to bring the QE2 back from Dubai. While access had be restricted, secret photos of the ship in its current condition went viral. They show a ship filthy and rotting moored beside several other tankers in Port Rashid. Dubai's hot humid climate and the ship's cold lay up status have resulted in a toxic combination of pealing paint, rust and mold that was slowly ruining the QE2.
The BBC compared the QE2's future to that of the SS United States, slowly rusting away, well beyond use. This fueled public outcry to return the QE2 to the UK. The Scottish government even got involved proposing the QE2 be brought to Greenock as a floating hotel. Sadly their efforts were in vain as Dubai stopped responding to all requests regarding the QE2's sale or condition. The Scottish government admitted defeat in a press release.
In 2015, movement was finally seen at Port Rashid! The QE2 moved from one side of the port to the other. Exciting, considering the ship had not moved in two years.
Not much happened. No new plans. No new news. The QE2 remained at Port Rashid, her prison since her sale. In 2016, die hard fans of the ship and their anonymous Dubai contacts observed some changes to the vessel. Throughout the year, the ship's lifeboats were slowly removed from the vessel and stashed in nearby parking lots under lock and key. Then the davits were removed giving the QE2 a very odd empty look similar to that of rotting SS United States in Philadelphia. That vessel had its lifeboats, davits, and every interior removed in the 1990s.
2017 came to a close, the ship remained in exile, slowly decaying. With no official announcement plans for the ship, the rumor mill came to life once again with yet another rumor of a another hotel conversion plan. This one in Port Rashid, itself. This hotel would supposedly open at the end of the year. The end came and went with no such achievement only a website, http://qe2.com.
QE2 in Lay Up.
- Louis De Sousa | Flickr
One of the largest collections of post lay up QE2 photos online. 10,000+ images.
Just as the 10-year onward sale clause was about to expire and QE2 fans assuming the worst, a spark of life! In March 2018, the ship moved for the first time in years to drydock to begin a very long awaited conversion to a static hotel. Much of her internal sea equipment and her propellers were removed and all jets and underwater openings sealed. She was then towed to her permanent berth at the Cruise 1 Terminal. Officially renamed QE2 Dubai, an extensive overall and refit begin to bring the ship up to modern hotel codes and repaint the ship from stem to stern. The March 2018 soft opening of the hotel kicked off with the arrival of Queen Mary 2 to huge fanfare. Next to the ship, an exhibition opened called the QE2 Heritage Exhibition which celebrates the fifty plus years of the ship's history.
A true storybook happy ending for a rocky and uncertain decade in this historic vessel.
Have you visited the QE2 in Dubai?
© 2016 Jason Ponic