SOUTHAMPTON civic chiefs could be forgiven for casting envious eyes over the sea to Belfast.

Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest museum devoted to the liner, in the city where the ship was built and launched, has been named Europe’s leading visitor attraction at the World Travel Awards in Sardinia.

The museum retells the story of what is the worst maritime disaster to have hit not just Belfast, but Southampton.

More than 500 crewmen, who lived across the city in Northam, St Mary’s, Chapel, Freemantle and Shirley, perished in the disaster in April1912 that claimed the lives of 1,517 people after the ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

So how come Belfast has gained the glory and not Sea City Museum, our exhibition which opened in the same year, 2012?

Did Southampton miss the boat, figuratively speaking, like the Slade brothers, the three crewman who famously arrived too late and were barred entry to the voyage?

Titanic Belfast beat competition from the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis in Athens, Buckingham Palace, Ribeira do Porto, Portugal, and the Roman Colosseum, Italy.

The attraction is located on the quayside where the great vessel was constructed and launched and last month welcomed its three millionth visitor, vastly exceeding expectations.

Titanic Belfast is an iconic six-floor building featuring nine interpretive and interactive galleries that explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Titanic, as well as the city and people which made her.

It has relatively little memorabilia but uses CGI brilliantly to recreate the sense of the scale of the great ship.

The last available visitor figures for Sea City showed that it attracted 78,000 people in 2014, far below the target of 115,000.

One reason for the discrepancy is the fact that the Belfast attraction cost an estimated £95 million with large public grants including from the European Union. Sea City cost an estimated £15 million.

Sea City Museum also tells the story of the city’s maritime heritage and not just the Titanic; Southampton also has the Titanic trail a walking tour linking the main parts of the Titanic story, particularly the various memorials such as to the engineers and the musicians.

Andrew Aldridge is one of the leading authorities on Titanic memorabilia whose firm Derek Aldridge and Sons of Trowbridge specialises in the memorabilia. The next sale is on October 22.

He told the Echo: “Interest in Titanic is growing all the time.

"The reason people are still talking about it is that every man, woman and child on the ship had a story to tell; from the captain EJ Smith, to JJ Astor, the richest man on the planet at that time, to the Goodman family from Melksham going to the United States to start a new life.”

Mr Aldridge said of Sea City: “It is not as visible as it could be. If you could write a cheque it would be a very easy thing to do it again.

"But I think with history and heritage it is a card that is very much under-played (in Southampton).”

Rudi Newman, honorary secretary of British Titanic Society, said Southampton should not be too hard on itself.

“Titanic Belfast is based where the ship was built and the slipways that were used. Southampton is still a working dockyard whereas Harland and Wolff is not.

"That limits what can be done in Southampton. There are a lot of memorials in Southampton and Sea City covers other aspects of the city’s maritime history.”

Mr Newman said: “Were the Ocean Terminal to become available and a museum was built overlooking the site (from where Titanic sailed) with CGI it would be very interesting and very good thing.

"The idea is excellent. But criticism of the Titanic exhibition at Sea City would be unfair.

"It is a very good collection. All the stuff in Sea City is the real thing.”

But the likelihood of the docks becoming available in the foreseeable future is highly unlikely with the port still thriving.

Mr Newman said what Southampton has are the memorials. The society is fundraising for a stained glass window to be installed in St Mary’s church to commemorate the crew.

City councillor Derek Burke, himself a stevedore in the docks, who until retirement in May, had worked yards from Berth 44 from where the Titanic sailed, said: “You could look back and say it was a missed opportunity but there were time constraints with Sea City of budget and opening in time for the centenary in 2012.

"Sea City is a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives.

"It is an amazing museum, very poignant.”

Ideally he said he would love to see Southampton being able to open a maritime museum on the waterfront, instead of a new Red Funnel terminal.

Daily Echo:

PICTURED: The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton on her maiden voyage, April 1912

The Titanic was the world’s largest passenger ship, measuring 882 feet in length, and the largest man-made moving object on Earth.

There were only 16 lifeboats and four collapsible boats on board, sufficient for only 1,178 people, one-third of the liner’s total capacity.

Of the 885 crew, only 23 were female. Some 699 boarded in Southampton, and four in 10 were natives of the city.

The last remaining survivor, Millvina Dean, died in 2009, aged 97. She was two months old at the time.

The wreck was discovered in 1985 and lies 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, around 12,500 feet below the surface.

James Cameron’s 1997 film, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, grossed more than $2bn and won 11 Oscars.