THE LIVES of hundreds of disabled Hampshire youngsters are to be dramatically improved as Southampton's world-famous passenger liner Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) sails full speed ahead to their aid.

The Southampton-based charity ChildrenSay is now in line to receive a huge cash windfall thanks to the generosity of the passengers and crew on board the world-famous Cunard liner.

QE2 might be thousands of miles away from home on her annual world cruise but everyone on board has not forgotten the vital work of the charity based just a short distance from the ship's berth in Southampton Docks.

Now the 70,327-ton luxury liner will receive a specially warm welcome home from the charity when she sails back into port in April.

ChildrenSay, which cares for youngsters with hearing and communication difficulties, is in line to receive up to £25,000 after the charity was picked to benefit from a wide-ranging series of fundraising events being staged during the ship's three-month voyage.

Since the first world cruise in 1975, it has become a tradition on QE2 to raise funds for charitable causes during the course of her voyage around the world.

Mary Nicklen, the charity's chief executive, said: "It's totally breathtaking, brilliant news. We want to say a big thank-you to everyone on QE2 as we are so thrilled by the offer, which means we are now able to do something big for the children.''

Among the plans for the money will be the installation of a loop system, similar to those used in theatres, at the assembly hall of Southampton's Tanners Brook School to help pupils with hearing difficulties.

Other proposed projects include multi-sensory equipment for other schools in Southampton, Totton and Fareham as well as a Locks Heath day centre, which all help youngsters with similar problems.

Speaking to the Daily Echo from the liner's bridge, as the ship voyaged across the Pacific heading towards New Zealand, Captain Ron Warwick, master of QE2, said: "The passengers and ship's company are very pleased to announce that ChildrenSay has been selected to be the major recipient of the 2001 World Cruise Charity.

"As we circumnavigate the globe visiting contrasting cultures and civilisations, various events will take place on board to raise funds in support of others.

"From previous experience, I am confident that our loyal past passengers, new passengers, long-serving crew members and new recruits, all of many different nationalities, will make every endeavour to reach our goals and further endorse QE2 as a symbol of international friendship."

The fundraising events the passengers are taking part in include making a quilt for auction, one regular traveller also repairs watches and replaces batteries, another has published a booklet about the ship for sale, while a couple have brought three enormous stuffed animals to raffle.

The crew are involved in a charity tug o' war competition, a sponsored endurance swim in the outdoor pool and a talent show in the ship's Grand Lounge.

"The main communal event is an English country fair, just like those held during the summer in towns and villages,'' said Capt Warwick.

"There are usually about 20 or 30 stalls, all manned by the passengers and crew."