January 21, 2011

That Sinking Feeling Comes To Dubai’s World Islands

The "World" project "” an artificial archipelago of 300 small islands arranged in the shape of a world map "” is sinking back into the sea, according to evidence presented to a property tribunal in the emirate, the Telegraph reports.

Only one of the islands is inhabited, and the financial crisis has halted work on the project. The "Ëœglobe' effect is most impressive when spotted by satellite, but visitors to Dubai who scale the Burg Khalifa - the tallest building in the world - can also see the awe-inducing sight.

Owned by the ruler of Dubai, most of the development plans have been brought to a crashing halt by recent global financing slowdowns. Nakheel, the developer, was part of Dubai World, the state-owned conglomerate that had to be bailed out of debts put at around $25 billion at the end of 2009.

The Dubai World Tribunal was set up to hear cases arising out of the restructuring and separation of the companies involved. According to the company, 70 percent of the World's 300 islands have been sold.

Nakheel is also behind Dubai's famous Palm-shaped offshore developments. Villas in the only one near completion, Palm Jumeirah, were given to or bought by footballers including David Beckham and Michael Owen.

The dispute being heard by the property tribunal involves Penguin Marine, the company which bought the rights to provide boat travel to the islands. With little business, it is trying to exit the contract, which involves paying an annual fee of just under £1 million to Nakheel.

Nakheel say they will cash an advanced payment guarantee worth just over £1 million if that happens. Penguin claim that work on the islands has "effectively stopped". Mr. Wilmot-Smith described the project as "dead".

Graham Lovett, for Nakheel, said the project was not dead but admitted it was "in a coma". "This is a ten-year project which has slowed down," he said. "This is a project which will be completed." Nakheel told the Telegraph that Penguin would make money eventually. "That's the price Penguin makes to stay in the game," he said. "They have the potential to earn millions." The tribunal found for Nakheel on Thursday, saying it would give full reasoning later.

A spokesman for Nakheel insisted the islands were not sinking. "Our periodical monitoring survey over the past three years didn't observe any substantial erosion that requires sand nourishment," a statement said.

NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.