Another Fantasy Island? Floating Metropolis Plans Move Ahead

Monday, November 29, 1999
A massive $8.5 billion luxury floating metropolis, the biggest boat in history, is reportedly on the verge of being built in the poverty-stricken Central American nation of Honduras. "If things work out the way we want, we should be starting in January," Mario Mossi, agent for boat builder Freedom Ship Inc. in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, said. Freedom Ship says it wants to make a tax-free floating city that will circumnavigate the globe to give inhabitants perpetual sunshine, "an ideal place to live or run a business - a friendly, safe and secure community." Measuring 4,320 ft. (1,500 m) by 750 ft. (250 m) wide and 340 ft. (130 m) deep, the boat will be designed to house sports centers, parks, theaters and nightclubs, all to be built in Honduras' Caribbean port of Trujillo, Mossi said. Approximately five times longer than the biggest cruise liner now afloat, able to carry 115,000 people and land jets on its top deck, the vessel will cost $8.5 billion, almost twice the Honduran gross domestic product. Mossi said a 200-acre building site lease and free trade zone status allowing duty-free imports of raw materials are still being negotiated with Honduran port authorities, but he was hopeful these issues would be resolved soon. "The good thing is that we have the minister's approval," he said. Trade Minister Reginaldo Panting said he welcomed the project because he hoped it would boost tourism as prospective buyers came to view their luxury floating homes in the making. Presidential chief of staff Gustavo Alfaro was less enthusiastic. "There is no clear definition on this project," he said, though he added that if the firm met environmental standards, Honduras was open to the project. Offering condominiums from $138,000 to $44 million each, the boat will be beyond the reach of most Hondurans, whose minimum wage is just $70 a month. "I think the market is not really intended for Hondurans," said Mossi, adding that 20 percent of the properties had been sold by September. A 675 sq.-ft. unit costs $298,250, while a 1,125 sq.-ft. unit with sea view goes for $728,750. Time shares are also available, offering buyers a different view of the world each year. Honduras beat worldwide competition to host the project mainly because of dirt-cheap labor. At $0.35 to $0.45 an hour, workers are about an eighth of the cost of those in Australia, the second favorite in Freedom Ship's search for a birthplace, Mossi said. At full steam, construction will employ 8,000-9,000 workers. Working 24 hours a day, seven days a week the boat would take two-and-a-half years to complete. "We would expect (building) here to be a bit longer because one of the main concerns is that we might not be able to get that amount of people from the Trujillo area," said Mossi. Honduras is not likely to be a port of call for the floating island, but it could be the base for further constructions. Mossi said feasibility studies had shown potential demand for two or three giant ships. "There's a big chance that once the project starts and it looks good, we could even be in Honduras for say eight years, maybe even more." Funding will come partly from a listing on the Nasdaq stock market, which company officials expect to be completed early in 2000. A 51-percent stake will be held by ship designer U.S.-based Engineering Solutions. - (James Crombie, Reuters)

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