A last-DITCH effort has been launched in an attempt to save one of Southam-pton's most famous transatlantic visitors, SS France, from being scrapped.

If the liner is successful in cheating the breaker's yard it would be another remarkable twist in a story in which the ship previously narrowly escaped an ignominious end.

Once the epitome of French chic on the Atlantic route between Southampton and New York, the liner is languishing at an Indian breakers' yard waiting for demolition gangs to move in.

However, in a race against time an organisation has been formed aimed at buying back the liner, later known as SS Norway and then Blue Lady, and returning her to Europe where she will be converted into a hotel, an education centre, museum and tourist attraction moored on the River Seine.

Urgent The president of the newly-formed Club Le France Prestige, Jean Philippe Prieur, has issued an urgent appeal to anyone who remembers the ship when she was a regular visitor to Southampton d ocks and who would like to help preserve this unique vessel by purchasing shares in the liner to save it from being turned into razor blades.

This is going to be a tough challenge for the organisation, based in the picturesque French Normandy fishing village of Honfleur, as steel now fetches high prices on the international market making the liner, once the longest in the world, an attractive proposition to be cut up and sold.

SS France, with her distinctive winged funnels, was once a familiar sight in Southampton from 1962 on her maiden voyage up to 1974, when rising costs forced her owners to withdraw her from service and lay her up, abandoned and awaiting an unknown fate.

In 1979 France, was reprieved from the scrapyard when she was bought and converted into a successful Caribbean cruise ship, sailing under the name SS Norway. She is pictured right at Southampton docks in the late 1990s.

For many years Norway earned a good living taking thousands of people on Caribbean cruises and the occasional transatlantic crossing to Southampton.

A few years ago Norway suffered a major explosion in her engine room while alongside her berth in Miami which sealed her fate as a cruise ship.

There were several plans to turn her into a floating casino in the Far East but eventually a contract was signed with a firm of Indian ship-breakers for her demolition.

"We know that we can still save France from being dismantled,'' said Monsieur Prieur. "There will be a lot of restoration work, furniture will have to be remade and thousands of other details to be put right. This ship is a part of maritime history and we must not lose it.'' Shares in the liner cost 55 euros and all money will be repaid if the scheme is not successful.