Lebanese Abou Merhi Lines’ previous venture into the cruise market was in 2005, when the company acquired and expensively re-fitted the former Starward (1968/15,781gt) as Orient Queen. The venture was short-lived; just one season of cruises from Beirut and an unsuccessful autumn in Dubai.
The ship was chartered to Louis Cruise Lines the following year and Abou Merhi abandoned cruising to concentrate on its core business of the operation of vehicle carriers in the trade of secondhand vehicles to West Africa. The company now believes that the time is right to have another attempt to establish a Beirut cruise business and has acquired Vistamar (1989/7,458gt) from Italian owners, although it is at present unclear if this is a purchase or a charter arrangement.
The ship will operate as Orient Queen II. Tourist numbers travelling to Lebanon have held up well despite the serious troubles in nearby Syria, and this new venture is seen as a way of demonstrating the potential of both the country and Beirut.