Southampton's latest luxury cruise ship is to be called Azura and will be one of the biggest vessels ever built solely for British passengers.

Owners, P&O Cruises' revealed the name as construction work on the vessel began with a keel-laying ceremony at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy today.

Azura will be able to accommodate up to 3,100 guests over 15 passenger decks featuring 11 restaurants, a shopping complex of five boutiques, four swimming pools, a wide variety of bars and lounges and 900 private balconies.

The new ship, which will take to the water for the first time in summer, 2009 when she is floated out of the dry dock before she is officially hand-over to P&O Cruises the following year.

The keel-laying involved the placement in the dry dock of one section of the ship's hull made up of six pre-manufactured blocks which are already fitted with piping and other internal structures.

P&O Cruises managing director, Nigel Esdale, said: "Evoking images of the ocean and capturing the thrill of cruise travel, the name Azura is very fitting for this most sophisticated of superliners."