The largest passenger liner the world has ever seen, Southampton's Queen Mary 2, rises up into the night sky in this dramatic and exclusive photograph.

Gradually the massive 150,000-ton ship is taking shape, on course for her arrival in the city's docks next year.

The arrival of QM2 will be an outstanding event for the city and the port, the centre for the UK's multi-million-pound cruise industry, as it is expected to attract world-wide interest.

With her superstructure soaring high over the dockside at the French shipyard in St Nazaire, where Cunard's QM2 is being constructed, the line of the huge vessel, already dubbed one of the major engineering projects of the 21st century, is beginning to emerge.

QM2 is due to leave the shipyard's dry dock next March and then move to a fitting-out berth before undertaking an exhaustive series of sea-trials later in the year. The biggest, longest, widest, tallest and most expensive passenger liner to be conceived in the history of shipping will make her dramatic entrance in Southampton Water for the first time in December, 2003.

Even before the ship has been completed, her maiden voyage from Southampton to Florida in the following January is a complete sell-out.

As building work gathers pace on the ship, developments are already under way in Southampton as the docks prepare new-look passenger terminal facilities in the Eastern Docks for QM2. The enormous vessel will be the first true ocean liner, as opposed to a modern-day cruise ship, to enter service since Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969.

With a capacity for 2,800 passengers and 1,300 crew, QM2 will produce enough electricity for a city the size of Southampton.