A RAINY morning failed to dampen the spirits as crowds lined the edge of Southampton Water to welcome the largest cruise ship built for the UK market to her home port.

P&O Cruises' Iona arrived at the port this morning ahead of its naming ceremony later today.

Iona sounded her whistle throughout the passage within Southampton Water and was escorted by two fire tugs providing a water display from Calshot to Ocean Terminal.

Crew members looked out from the side of the vessel and lined the balconies as members of the public soaked up the landmark occasion from dry land.

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The cruise ship, which weighs 185,000 tonnes, is due to sail her seven night maiden voyage around the coast of the island of Iona and the Scottish Isles from Southampton on August 7.

However, first the naming ceremony will take place on the evening of May 16.

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The ship will be officially named by Dame Irene Hays, chair of Hays Travel, in a quayside ceremony by the bow of the ship.

The coronavirus pandemic means the event will be closed to the public but broadcast online.

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A virtual event hosted by Jo Whiley is planned, with Take That star Gary Barlow due to perform a short set for an online auidence of around 25,000.

Iona has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account.

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The vessel, which was built in Germany and is 1,132 feet long, is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which the operator described as “one of the cleanest fuels in the world”.

Ships of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: “It is a landmark day for both P&O Cruises and for the travel industry as a whole.

“We are on the cusp of a bright new beginning and Iona’s arrival into Southampton this morning is very visible evidence of this much anticipated future.

“Our guests are longing to get back to sea and Iona’s summer season of UK coastal cruises, including her maiden voyage on August 7 up to her namesake island of Iona, have seen overwhelming demand.”