UK's biggest ever cruise ship sails into home port of Southampton

Paul Ludlow from P&O cruises explains why it's such a significant moment for the cruise industry

The largest cruise ship built for the UK market has arrived in Southampton ahead of her naming ceremony.

P&O Cruises’ Iona has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account.

Iona is the largest cruise ship built for the UK market Credit: PA

She will be used by the operator for its summer season of domestic sailings.

Under a grey sky, the ship was greeted by a water salute as it sailed into Southampton on Sunday.

Watch: ITV News Meridian's Mike Pearse was with the crowds watching in Southampton

The vessel is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which the operator described as “one of the cleanest fuels in the world”.

Ships of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality.

Iona – 345 metres long (1,132ft) and weighing 185,000 tonnes – was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

Members of crew line balconies on the side of the new P&O cruise ship Credit: PA

She will sail on her maiden cruise to the Scottish island she was named after on August 7.

Sunday night’s naming ceremony will feature a performance by Take That star Gary Barlow, who is music director of an onboard entertainment venue.

The coronavirus pandemic means the event will be closed to the public but broadcast online.

Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel, will be the ship’s godmother and will conduct proceedings.

The first major sailing following Monday’s lifting of the ban on cruises in England will be operated by MSC Cruises.

Its ship Virtuosa will set off from Southampton for a four-night trip beginning on Thursday.

Cruises operating in England will only be allowed to carry up to 1,000 passengers – or 50% of their capacity if that is lower – until all limits on social contact are removed.

Under Boris Johnson’s road map for easing restrictions, that was due to take place on June 21 at the earliest, but the Prime Minister has warned that the Indian coronavirus variant means his plan is in jeopardy.