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There has recently been confirmation that QEII has been bought from its current owners in Dubai by a group of Chinese businessmen, and will be moved to either Singapore or Hong Kong where it will become a floating hotel. Much of the conversion work will be done at a shipyard in the United Arab Emirates before the move. All this follows the failure of the current owners to implement their previously-stated plan to do the same with the QEII in Dubai. There was also some recent press coverage of a possible alternative scheme to bring her back to London, again as a floating hotel, and moor her somewhere on the Thames. Obviously that plan is now scuppered and apparently this will cause some wailing and lamentation in London. I have to wonder why.

I do understand that many people loved travelling on the QEII while she was still in service, and I can understand the power of nostalgia; but I don’t understand the desire to preserve these old ships, especially in a role for which they were not really designed. You can argue that all passenger ships include a ‘hotel’ in the form of the cabins, restaurants and bars, but these days they don’t really compare with any even half-way decent hotel in terms of spaciousness or comfort. I can’t imagine that many people would be pleased to stay in a standard QEII cabin; by hotel standards they’re small and pokey, and let’s not even think about the bathrooms. Some of them don’t even have windows…. So before QEII can become a hotel it will need a considerable amount of work to enlarge rooms, modernise facilities, and so on. Then there’s the fact that they simply need more maintenance than a normal building – the amount of work needed to keep an old hull in good condition must be considerable. And of course they’re never in the right place. The Queen Mary, which is a museum and hotel, is berthed at Long Beach, and that’s the major west coast container port. She’s a significant distance from downtown LA. The suggested location on the Thames for QEII was somewhere down by the Royal Docks, I believe, and that’s miles from central London.

I can’t help thinking that the directors of P&O had the right idea when the time came to end Canberra’s career. They simply sent her for scrap, and set up the contract in such a way that it wasn’t possible for a new owner to buy her, intact, off the beach and put her back into service somewhere.

Ships are built for a commercial reasons. With luck they meet that requirement, earn money for their owners, and leave their passengers with happy memories. Then when their time is over, the best thing to do with them is to scrap them. A small number might have a role as static museums, but there aren’t many of these – I can think of HMS’s Victory, Warrior and Belfast, and SS Great Britain. Then some others manage to keep working – Waverley and Shieldhall, for example. But for most ships this second life won’t exist. Surely it’s undignified for a great ship to be permanently moored somewhere and her essential character changed? Isn’t it better to do the decent thing and send her to the scrap yard? Those who love her will still have their memories and momentos, and will be spared any possible sadness at seeing the ship they loved in an alien environment. I can’t help thinking that’s the best conclusion to a ship’s career.

2 Responses to “What to do with old ships?”

  1. Stuart says:

    Tom, I read this through and thoroughly agreed with your point of view. Then slowly, bit by bit I started thinking of the love many have for old aeroplanes, old cars and many other forms of transport. I agree that a ship is a bit more of a problem to keep.

    I started thinking of old BBC cult sitcoms that were just erased once they were finished with because the tape was more valuable than the material (at that time) and I started thinking of all the information that is kept on the internet which could be wiped in the blink of any eye.

    Is there a benefit to keeping things, big and small so that generations to come can enjoy them in some way? Yes I think there is. Is it right we keep the QE2? I’m not so sure now.

    PS By way of disclosure, I have a shed full of things I keep just in case…..

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Stuart.

      I understand the love that many people have for old things, and I have great respect for those who devote their time and energy, and often great skill, to the object of their love. I’m thinking of the people who restore old cars to original condition, or even the steam train preservation movement. I also think that the ‘heritage preservation’ people are able to use their old cars, or trains, in something like the way they were intended to be used: the cars are driven on the road, the trains run along the tracks, and have passengers. But a ship in that situation will never be putting to sea, and I don’t think the hotel guests can really be described as passengers. It seems to me that preserving an old ship as a hotel is actually using it fundamentally differently from the way it was originally intended to be used. The voyage was the thing; and there’ll be no more voyages for QE2 once she gets to wherever she’s going.

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