AFTER almost half a century sailing the oceans few ships are as closely emblematic of the glorious history of cruising as the Saga Rose.

A classic liner, she has served with some of the biggest names in the business and carried hundreds of thousands of passengers, mostly from the quayside in Southampton.

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Now, on the eve of her retirement from active service, the Daily Echo can reveal her owners are considering exciting plans to keep her in the city which has long been her home.

Saga, the over-50s cruise company, is retiring the ship at the end of the year and is keen to keep her as a hotel catering for up to 460 cruise guests and the general public.

Southampton’s Town Quay is one of three locations now being actively pursued by Saga managers.

However the city faces stiff competition from other sites, including a rival European port and another further afield.

A Saga spokesman said: “Southampton is her favourite port and the port she has carried out the most cruises from.”

If it goes ahead she would sit alongside the Ocean Liner Experience which entrepreneurs are aiming to build on Town Quay by the end of the year. The attraction, which is intended to attract 300,000 visitors annually, will house a display of items from the doomed liner Titanic.

It would follow the model pioneered by the legendary liner Queen Mary, which has long served as a floating hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.

More recently, another Cunarder, QE2 was sold to Dubai to become a top hotel, although the recession may have torpedoed the plan.

A major hitch in the ambitions for the Saga Rose is the estimated £15m cost of equipping Town Quay with the necessary equipment to support such a big hotel for a period of at least ten years.

Concrete pillars, known as dolphins, would need to be sunk into the mud to brace the 24,474- ton ship against and protect the structure of Town Quay. Major work to provide electricity and access and refit the interior for her new role as hotel would also be needed.

The idea has the enthusiastic backing of city business leaders and politicians.

Royston Smith, Cabinet member for economic development, said: “We would be absolutely delighted if the Saga Rose was to become a permanent fixture in Southampton. It would complement perfectly our status as the cruise capital of Northern Europe. This is just the thing to put Southampton on the map and the ideal place for the Saga Rose to spend her retirement.”

The Saga Rose is due to carry her last passengers from Southampton on a farewell Mediterranean cruise in October, when she will be replaced by the Saga Pearl II, which will launch its first cruise in March next year.

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