Sadness touched many homes at Christmas 1963 due to the loss by fire off Madeira of Greek Line's 20,300-ton vessel Lakonia.

A total of 90 passengers and 31 crew lost their lives in the disaster about 180 miles off the island.

Lakonia, which ran a regular series of cruises from Southampton, sailed on December 19 with more than 650 passengers on what was to have been a festive cruise to the Atlantic Islands.

The blaze began in a small way but spread rapidly and within a short time Lakonia was raked by fire from stem to stern.

Passengers and crew took to the lifeboats and rafts while other ships and aircraft, which had responded to the liner's SOS, started a massive rescue operation.

Lakonia was abandoned and later taken in tow but soon after sank.

Originally the ship had entered service in the early 1930's as the Dutch liner, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, one of the longest ship names ever.

After service in the Second World War as an Allied troopship she was employed on the Europe to Australia route and for cruising.

The Greek Line bought the ship in 1962 and had her fitted out for permanent cruising.