Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth cruise liner nears completion

Cunard's new cruise liner Queen Elizabeth is nearing completion at an Italian shipyard ahead of its naming ceremony in Southampton in October.

Its predecessor Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) ended its life as an ocean liner in November 2008 and was sold to Dubai-based property developers Nakheel.

From the outside Queen Elizabeth looks largely complete.

The trademark Cunard red and black funnel is in place, the black and white hull marks out this ship as a cut above the typical white floating block of flats that so many of the current cruise ships resemble.

It has taken 18 months to get this far. But step inside this gigantic building site and you discover 2,000 people working flat out to get the £400m ship ready.

The new ship is expected to be the last new cruise ship for the British market for years to come.

Miles of cables

Wires trail everywhere, welders create showers of sparks, craftsmen piece together marble floors and lay gold leaf on the art deco adornments in the big public rooms.

"It must be ready," says Jolette Vincenzi, a technician at the Fincantieri shipyard.

"We have got no choice. In two months the ship will make sea trials. In three months it will carry passengers."

Image caption QE2 crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times

Up on the bridge, there is not even a floor yet.

Miles of cables stretch between banks of state-of-the-art machines, as electricians crawl around.

The deputy captain, Hamish Sunter, is one of five ship's officers who are already working on board.

He's been here since April. He was previously on QE2, which the new ship effectively replaces.

"QE2 was a venerable old lady," he says. "Very fast in a straight line. This one is better at manoeuvring sideways. But in style they have a lot in common.

"Think of one year of a ship's life being like two years of a human life.

"So in our terms QE2 was like an 80-year-old lady, and bits of her weren't quite what they once were. This one is brand new."

Queen Elizabeth - or just QE as the ship is already being called - is one foot longer and one foot wider than the QE2. But with 16 decks, she is much taller.

Linda and Ken Hindle from Southampton are regular cruisers, racking up 14 voyages on QE2.

"We were devoted to that ship," says Mr Hindle.

"So as soon as we heard a new queen was being built we tried to book the maiden voyage."

They were lucky to get on the list. The trip from Southampton to the Canary Islands sold out in less than half an hour.

The ship looks a lot like her sister, Queen Victoria, but is more than a third smaller than Cunard's other liner, the Queen Mary 2.

It will be named in Southampton on 11 October.

QE will be the third new cruise ship to be named in the city this year but will be the last for years to come with no other ships on order for the British market.

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