A DESPERATE last-ditch attempt to keep Southampton's most famous liner in her home port has failed because the ship is 'too young'.

Behind-the-scenes moves to try and scupper the £50m deal to send the Queen Elizabeth 2 to the oil-rich state of Dubai have been sunk after an attempt to brand the ship "an object of culture interest" failed.

Cunard's parent company, the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, has struck a deal with developers in Dubai who will transform the liner into a floating holiday resort, hotel and conference centre. She is due to leave Southampton for the last time in November 2008.

The Southampton-based QE2 Consortium had hoped the Government would stop the sale under an act of parliament which controls the export of "objects of cultural interest". It would have meant the Government would have needed to issue an official export licence before the ship could be permanently removed from British waters.

But the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that an object had to be at least 50 years old before the Government could step in and insist on an export licence.

"As the QE2 is less than 50 it is not governed by legislation on the export of cultural goods and does not require an export licence," said a Government spokesman.

Ironically, this development comes as QE2 prepares for a series of celebrations next month marking the 40th anniversary of her entery into service.

Cunard would not be drawn on the consortium's attempt to keep QE2 in Southampton and a spokesman would only say: "We have no comment to make at this time."

Terry Yarwood from the QE2 Consortium, initiated the plea for an export licence in a letter to Southampton Itchen MP John Denham. Mr Yarwood claimed the chairman of Carnival Corporation had not realised how important the QE2 was to Britain's national heritage.

He said: "It is totally unacceptable that an American autocrat has made a decision about the future of the most famous ship in the world without any consideration whatsoever for the British people and the possibility of the liner being permanently berthed in Southampton."

Mr Yarwood said: "This would have been a golden opportunity for the Government to prove that they care about our British heritage."