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P&O’s Iona arrives in Southampton ahead of its naming ceremony

The largest cruise ship built for the UK market has arrived in Southampton ahead of its naming ceremony.  

P&O Cruises’s Iona has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account.

The ship will be used by the operator for its summer season of domestic sailings. 

Under a grey sky, the ship was greeted by a water salute as it sailed into Southampton on Sunday. 

The vessel is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which the operator described as ‘one of the cleanest fuels in the world’. 

P&O Cruises's Iona, the largest cruise ship built for the UK market, has arrived in Southampton ahead of its naming ceremony on Sunday evening

P&O Cruises’s Iona, the largest cruise ship built for the UK market, has arrived in Southampton ahead of its naming ceremony on Sunday evening

The ship, which was greeted by a water salute as it sailed into Southampton, has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account

The ship, which was greeted by a water salute as it sailed into Southampton, has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account

Ships of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality.

Iona, which is 1,132-feet long and weighs 185,000 tonnes, was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. 

She will sail on her maiden cruise to the Scottish island she was named after on August 7. 

Sunday night’s naming ceremony will feature a performance by Take That star Gary Barlow, who is music director of an onboard entertainment venue. 

The coronavirus pandemic means the event will be closed to the public but will be broadcast online.

Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel, will be the ship’s godmother and will conduct proceedings. 

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: ‘Since the inception of Hays Travel there is no one who has been more supportive of cruising or been more of an ambassador for the travel industry than Dame Irene Hays.  

The ship will be used by the operator for its summer season of domestic sailings. Domestic cruises are allowed to go ahead from Monday, with a limit on capacity and more than six people or two households mixing indoors

The ship will be used by the operator for its summer season of domestic sailings. Domestic cruises are allowed to go ahead from Monday, with a limit on capacity and more than six people or two households mixing indoors

The vessel is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which the operator described as 'one of the cleanest fuels in the world', while ships of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality

The vessel is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which the operator described as ‘one of the cleanest fuels in the world’, while ships of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality

‘As such there is no one more appropriate to take centre stage on May 16 in this prestigious event as we celebrate her achievements and pay tribute to her husband John.’ 

What are the rules on domestic cruises? 

From May 17, domestic cruises will be permitted in England under step 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown. 

Domestic cruises depart from and return to UK ports. They may operate beyond UK waters, but are currently restricted to UK port calls and carrying residents from the UK and the Common Travel Area (Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man and Ireland) only. 

They will be able to operate with 1,000 passengers or at 50 per cent capacity, depending on which is lower. 

Groups of more than six people or two households will not be allowed to mix indoors, whether or not they originally booked in the same group. 

When all limits on social contact are removed, which is currently due to take place on June 21 at the earliest, the capacity limits for domestic cruises will also be lifted.  

John Hays, founder of the company, died suddenly aged 71 in November last year.

The first major sailing following Monday’s lifting of the ban on domestic cruises in England will be operated by MSC Cruises. 

Its ship Virtuosa will set off from Southampton for a four-night trip beginning on Thursday. 

Cruises operating in England will only be allowed to carry up to 1,000 passengers – or 50 per cent of their capacity if that is lower – from tomorrow. 

This will be until all limits on social contact are removed.

Until limits of social contact are lifted, people will not be able to mix indoors of groups of more than six people or two households due to covid-secure guidance, which will continue to apply whether or not they originally booked in the same group.  

Under Boris Johnson’s road map for easing restrictions, that was due to take place on June 21 at the earliest, but the Prime Minister has warned that the Indian coronavirus variant means his plan is in jeopardy. 

In March, it was reported that unvaccinated holidaymakers would be banned from P&O Cruises ‘staycation’ sailings this summer. 

Brits who wish to sail on a domestic cruise will have to have received both doses of the Covid vaccine at least seven days in advance of their trip, the UK’s largest cruise line said. 

Failure to provide proof of the jabs ‘will result in a denial of boarding’, the firm warned, while other measures introduced due to the pandemic included requiring passengers to wear masks in certain areas of the ship, and making travel insurance mandatory. It was also reported there would be enhanced cleaning regimes, as well as social distancing.  

Members of the public took pictures on their phones as the new P&O cruise ship entered Southampton for the first time ahead of its naming ceremony

Members of the public took pictures on their phones as the new P&O cruise ship entered Southampton for the first time ahead of its naming ceremony 

Iona, which is 1,132-feet long and weighs 185,000 tonnes, was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany and will sail on her maiden cruise to the Scottish island she was named after on August 7

Iona, which is 1,132-feet long and weighs 185,000 tonnes, was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany and will sail on her maiden cruise to the Scottish island she was named after on August 7

The ship was originally due for launch in May but this was delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Cruise ships were home to some of the earliest clusters of Covid-19, when the virus infected hundreds of passengers onboard the Diamond Princess in Japan and the Grand Princess in the US.  

Hundreds of cancelled holidays resulted in an eerie ‘ghost fleet’ of ships which were anchored in the English Channel last October, which transformed the view of the British coastline from Plymouth to Portsmouth. 

The cruise-liners, which would typically have spent the summer in the Mediterranean and Caribbean islands, even became an unlikely tourist attraction, with fascinated onlookers paying to see the empty vessels close up. 

P&O’s now second-biggest vessel, the Britannia, can accommodate 5,000 passengers and staff. 

Speaking at a handover ceremony at the Meyer Werft shipyard in October, P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: ‘Iona’s delivery is a very positive signal for the future of cruising. 

Members of the public gathered under grey skies and their umbrellas to watch the ship arrive in the UK ahead of the naming ceremony which will see Take That star Gary Barlow, who is music director of an onboard entertainment venue, perform

Members of the public gathered under grey skies and their umbrellas to watch the ship arrive in the UK ahead of the naming ceremony which will see Take That star Gary Barlow, who is music director of an onboard entertainment venue, perform

The naming ceremony will be closed to the public amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, but the performance will be broadcast online with proceedings conducted by Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel and the ship's godmother

The naming ceremony will be closed to the public amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, but the performance will be broadcast online with proceedings conducted by Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel and the ship’s godmother

‘She is now officially part of the P&O Cruises fleet and we are focused on readying her to welcome guests during her new maiden season to northern Europe, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands from our home port of Southampton.

‘Already eagerly anticipated by our guests, crew and the communities we visit, events this year have increased the sense of anticipation even more.

‘Whilst our operations are currently paused until early 2021 Iona will not be sailing for the moment. But we look forward to our guests experiencing this game-changing ship as we will continue to offer unparalleled holidays at sea whilst also upholding the latest approved travel protocols.’

The Iona is described by P&O as its ‘greenest, largest and most innovative ship yet,’ with a ‘luminous glass-roofed SkyDome, on-board gin distillery and whole world of dining and entertainment on board’. 

The Iona is described by P&O as its 'greenest, largest and most innovative ship yet,' with a 'luminous glass-roofed SkyDome, on-board gin distillery and whole world of dining and entertainment on board'

The Iona is described by P&O as its ‘greenest, largest and most innovative ship yet,’ with a ‘luminous glass-roofed SkyDome, on-board gin distillery and whole world of dining and entertainment on board’


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