A QUESTION mark again hangs over the future of Southampton’s legendary QE2 cruise liner after reports its owner in Dubai could sell off the vessel to ease its mounting debts.

Stories of the liner’s sale have been circling since plans to use it as a floating hotel for football fans at this summer’s World Cup in South Africa were scrapped last month.

Reports now suggest the state-backed investment firm Dubai World is planning to sell a raft of assets which are owned by its private equity arm Istithmar, including the QE2 and the Canadian circus group Cirque du Soleil.

Dubai World is laden with debts of £14 billion and sent shockwaves through global markets last November when it asked to delay repayments to about 100 banks while it attempted to tackle its finances.

Istithmar bought QE2 from Cunard in 2007 for £64m with plans at the time to transform it into a luxury floating hotel.

The hotel idea angered some fans of the luxury liner in Southampton and some shipping groups now believe it is unlikely the former Cunard ship will ever be used again.

“I think it is just too expensive to run her as a floating hotel in today’s financial climate,” said John Lillywhite, chairman of the Southampton branch of the World Ship Society.

“In my opinion no one will be able to afford to buy her and she’ll end up in the breaker’s yard.”

The liner, which was launched in September 1967, was the longest-serving ship in Cunard’s 168-year history. She crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and carried more than 2.5 million passengers.

Advisers to Dubai World, led by accountancy firm Deloitte, are expected to present the plans for asset sales to creditors led by banks Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group in the coming months, the report said.

Dubai World was unavailable for comment.