THE world’s largest container ship, CMA CGM Marco Polo, has left Southampton on her maiden voyage linking the city with the manufacturing powerhouse of China.

For 24 hours Southampton was, quite literally, overshadowed by the vast scale of the maritime monster, the first ship ever built able to carry more than 16,000 containers.

Equipped with more than 1,000 power points for refrigerated containers, the ship carries everything and anything which China produces, from frozen prawns to computers, household goods to medical equipment, and toys to rubber boots.

Marco Polo is almost 50ft longer than New York’s Empire State Building is high, or to put it locally, it would take more than six Civic Centre Clock Towers laid end to end to match her length.

Even Cunard’s flagship, the mighty 151,000-ton Queen Mary 2, another familiar sight in Southampton, would shrink in comparison to the container ship, which is also far bigger than the nuclear-powered French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, western Europe’s largest warship.

If the total number of containers, each 20ft long, stacked on Marco Polo’s decks were placed end to end they would stretch more than 60 miles, almost equivalent to the distance from the dockside in Southampton to Bath in Somerset.

Southampton Port director Doug Morrison said: “Marco Polo’s call is great news for everyone connected with the port and the 10,000 jobs it supports across the region.

“Southampton has now placed itself on the map as a terminal capable of handling the world’s largest container ship, but also similar 18,000-container capacity vessels still under construction.’’ As Marco Polo completed her initial call and departed for Germany, hundreds of people gathered at the city’s Mayflower Park to see her set sail.