A special cargo is making its way from Southampton to the Caribbean island of St Lucia on board the P&O Cruises' ship 69,153-ton Oriana.

More than 2,000 books are being taken out by the ship's master, Captain Rory Smith and his crew on behalf of Hampshire to help boost library facilities for the island's youngsters.

Some of the UK's top children's authors, including the creator of the Harry Potter best-sellers, JK Rowling, have backed the initiative that is the brainchild of Anne Marley, Hampshire's acting assistant county librarian.

On a cruise earlier this year Anne called in at St Lucia and visited the Carnegie library in Castries and although the building was magnificent she was concerned by the condition of the stock, particularly the children's collection.

So on her return to Hampshire Anne set about the task of gathering books and raising cash for the library on St Lucia so the local children could enjoy the chance of having more to read.

Anne has now obtained more than 2,000 books, worth about £10,000, to donate to St Lucia together with £6,000 cash raised by charity events for the library to increase resources.

Hook-with-Warsash Primary School in Warsash and the Admiral Lord Nelson School in Portsmouth generated funds by selling cakes, cookies and drinks. Hook-with-Warsash School, along with other schools in Hampshire, is also being twinned with a school in St Lucia.

A total of more than 80 boxes full of books were loaded on Oriana yesterday for the voyage across the Atlantic to St Lucia, where the ship is due to arrive on Friday, December 6.

A P&O spokesman in Southampton said: "We are delighted to be able to help in carrying the books across to St Lucia so the youngsters are able to enjoy some early Christmas presents."

The call to St Lucia is part of a 21-night cruise to the Caribbean that also takes in Antigua and Barbados.