'Like nothing on Earth': APEC's cruise ship summit

Quoits deck, plunge pools and sunset yoga: for security and logistical reasons, thousands of delegates and journalists attending this year's APEC summit have very unusual quarters -- on hulking cruise ships moored offshore. "Like nothing on Earth" screams the slogan in huge dark lettering against their gleaming white hulls, off Papua New Guinea's crime-ridden capital of Port Moresby. And indeed few attendees can have experienced summit accommodation like it. The 245-metre (800 foot) Pacific Jewel, where mainly journalists are housed, has 14 decks and berths for nearly 1,700 people ranging from small interior cabins to spacious suites with an ocean view. It boasts an array of restaurants and bars -- from the Mix Cocktail bar to the darker and jazz-filled Orient. Other entertainment includes the Marquee theatre for shows and on-board "Gatsby" or "Back to School" parties. Those who have not had their fill of high-wire summitry can try "walking the plank" -- being suspended by a rope 14 floors over the sea -- or "rock climbing" up the ship's funnel. Others unlucky in summit negotiations can try their luck at the casino, with plush blue-baized blackjack tables and dozens of blinking slot machines. Sporting memorabilia adorns the walls, from "Magic" Johnson's famous 32 LA Lakers shirt to stamps featuring legendary Australian cricketer Donald Bradman. Summit organisers turned to the cruise ships amid a lack of sufficient facilities in the Papua New Guinean capital, where this year's summit is taking place. "We simply do not have enough hotel rooms in Port Moresby to accommodate all delegations," admitted Justin Tkatchenko, minister in charge of APEC in a recent parliamentary speech. - Flotels - The other concern was security -- how to keep officials from around the world safe in Port Moresby, rated one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. Carjackings have become commonplace, often carried out by the notorious "raskols" street gangs, and petty crime is rife. The Economist Intelligence Unit this year ranked the city 136th out of 140 on its list of most liveable places, above only Karachi, Lagos, Dhaka and war-torn Damascus. Unsurprisingly, security is tight both onboard and onshore, with world leaders like China's President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Mike Pence attending the summit -- although the latter is overnighting in the northern Australian city of Cairns. Moored just a kilometre from the Pacific Jewel lurk two menacing warships. Small police inflatables and jetskis patrol nearby waters constantly. Sharon Fernandes, assistant night manager aboard the Pacific Jewel, said the 650 staff from 40 countries had to adjust from a cruise-ship mentality to essentially running a "Flotel" for delegates. "For the first time, we are a hotel, not a ship. We need to be more broad-minded and adjust to different mentalities," the 31-year-old from Mumbai told AFP. Guests said they were happy to be offshore given the logistical difficulties and safety reputation of Port Moresby. "I'm really pleased I'm on a cruise ship because it's safer and more convenient. It's better to stick with everyone else because the logistics are so difficult," said one 26-year-old Hong Kong-based reporter. One delegate, who declined to be named, also cited convenience as a key factor compared to staying in a hotel with security restrictions. "As a delegate, it's not a bad thing being on a cruise ship because everything is laid on here. In a hotel, you are much more restricted." David Jones, spokesman for Carnival Australia, which provided the ships, said the company has been running cruise ships to Papua New Guinea for several years and was an obvious choice for authorities. "There is no way you could have this extent of accommodation shoreside and we see this as a natural extension of our relationship with Papua New Guinea," Jones told AFP.