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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK


Big sisters for QE2

A British shipyard is competing with two German firms for the QE2 refit

Cunard, whose flagship the QE2 celebrated its 30th birthday on Wednesday, has announced plans for a second new ship.

The company, which is already working on "Project Queen Mary", says another new vessel could be built by 2005.

The second ship was likely to be known as the Queen Victoria.

Cunard president Larry Pimentel said a decision on which European shipyard would build the new 100,000-tonne Queen Mary (QM2) was expected this summer.

'Option for a second ship'

Speaking at the QE2's 30th birthday party in Southampton, Mr Pimentel said: "We will put in an order for a new vessel as part of the Queen Mary project and also an option for a second vessel.

"It would be fantastic to see these two ships crossing each other in the Atlantic."

More than 300 guests on board the QE2 watched as the vessel's two captains cut a birthday cake watched by all the surviving QE2 captains.

The party coincided with the announcement of a £19.5m refit for the 70,000-tonne ship to be carried out in November.

The Southampton-based ship repair and conversion company A&P is competing with two German yards for the lucrative contract.

Bad memories of 1994 refit

One of the German firms, Blohm and Voss of Hamburg, will have to shake off the stigma of the last major refit in 1994.

The vessel set sail for New York with scores of workmen still aboard trying to finish jobs.

Cunard eventually had to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to passengers who complained of bad conditions on board.

The company said on Wednesday that sub-contractors were to blame for the 1994 episode, rather than Blohm and Voss.

A&P carried out a successful £12m QE2 refit in 1996.

The third company in the running is Bremerhaven's Lloyd Werft.

Swedish facelift

A Swedish design firm, Tilber, has been appointed to oversee the latest facelift.

The refit will include refurbishment of all suites and cabins, enhancement of passenger areas and a new look for the restaurant and dining areas.

Cunard president Larry Pimentel said: "This magnificent vessel, certainly the most famous ship afloat, will sail into the millennium with new vigour, displaying interiors that will express her stately grandeur in totally British terms."

The vessel was launched on Clydeside in 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II, who it is named after.

Its maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York, came in 1969.

Flag of convenience row

Mr Pimentel is due to meet Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Thursday to discuss shipping issues.

Mr Prescott, a former ship's steward, will seek clarification over whether the QM2 will sail under the British flag.

Mr Pimentel said last year the £300m superliner was unlikely to fly the red ensign unless British shipping unions made significant concessions on pay and conditions.

Mr Pimentel said on Wednesday: "Mr Prescott has been extremely co-operative and very friendly. He has a passion for seeing more British vessels sailing and we will have a very honest and very candid discussion."

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