SOUTHAMPTON has strengthened its position as Europe’s top cruise port.

The city has retained its crown as the continent’s largest embarkation and disembarkation harbour – handling 1.64 million passengers a year.

The city is also leading the way in boosting Britain’s economy, as the cruise industry plays a key role in driving the nation’s wealth.

Almost eight out of ten cruise passengers in Britain joined their cruise in Southampton, with almost 800,000 coming through the city’s docks.

The cruise industry is worth £2.5 billion to the UK’s economy and employs over 70,000 people. That makes Britain Europe’s biggest cruise sector, accounting for one in five of the continent’s jobs in the industry.

Furthermore, more than 4,000 new jobs were created in Britain’s cruise industry.

Local success stories include Southampton-based marine interiors company Trimline creating 20 jobs and the industry’s largest food and drink supplier Cavendish Ships Stores in Fareham recruiting 15 new employees in two years.

Jo Rzymowska, chair of CLIA UK & Ireland, the firm behind the research, said: “The cruise industry’s multi-billion-pound investment in UK plc is paying ever-increasing dividends for the British economy.

“The UK leads the field, accounting for more passengers and more jobs than any other European country and we are confident this growth in cruise travel will continue as we see new cruise ships dedicated to the UK market being introduced in 2015.”

One of those new cruise ships will be Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. The 167,800 gross register tonnage vessel will be based in Southampton.

Pierfrancesco Vago, CLIA Europe’s chairman, said it reaffirmed Europe’s position as a “dynamic hub” and added: “The cruise industry keeps generating great economic benefits for Europe during this crucial period of recovery, producing much-needed employment for European citizens as well as new business for its industries and revenue for its states.”

CLIA UK & Ireland director put the increase in British cruise passengers down to the industry’s increasing choice and quality.

Overall the cruise industry contributed a whopping £13.2 billion to European economies in 2013 – a 4.7 per cent jump from the previous year.

But the UK remains Europe’s biggest cruise market, accounting for a quarter of the sector with 1.7 million Brits booked cruises over the period.

The number of Europeans who took a cruise last year was 6.36 million, while the worldwide passenger figure was 21.3 million.