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QE2 GETS SET FOR HER LAST VISIT; Warm welcome expected.

Byline: By NICK COLIGAN

THOUSANDS of people are expected to flock to the waterfront tomorrow for what could be the QJE2's final visit to Liverpool.

The most famous ship in the world docks at the city's new cruise liner terminal between 7-8am to take part in a day-long extravaganza ending with a spectacular fireworks display.

The QE2, launched by the Queen 40 years ago, will berth for a final time in Dubai in 2009 when she will become a floating hotel.

Tomorrow is her last planned visit to Liverpool, although Cunard say there is a possibility she may make another brief stop-off between now and her final trip to the Middle East.

Thousands of maritime enthusiasts are expected at the Mersey waterfront in Liverpool and Wirral to catch a glimpse of the 70,300-tonne vessel.

A civic party headed by the Duke of Kent and culture minister Margaret Hodge will also welcome the QE2 to Princes Dock, before a gala concert at Liverpool cathedral for guests and passengers.

Soprano Lesley Garrett, tenor Nicky Spence, author and QE2 expert Carol Thatcher and frequent passenger Sir Jimmy Savile will all attend.

The fireworks display takes place at 10.45pm and the QE2 leaves the Mersey at 3am.

All in all, the ship is likely to receive her most raucous reception since her first visit to Liverpool in 1990, when a million people are estimated to have turned out to see her.

City officials hope such a high-profile visitor will give the pounds 19m terminal just the boost it needs to put Liverpool back on the world cruising map.

The arrival of the QE2, which has sailed the equivalent of 13 trips to the moon and back, is always a popular occasion in Liverpool.

Rachel Mulhearn, curator at the Maritime Museum, believes this has a lot to do with the longevity of the ship, which was even requisitioned as a troop carrier during the Falklands War.

She said: "I think the response in 1990 was so overwhelming because it had been a while since anyone had seen that size of vessel in the river. It was the first for a generation and couldn't fail to make an impact.

"Many people remembered when Liverpool was bustling withs Liverpool was bustling with ships, even though they might not be the massive liners of the early 20th century.

"Also, Liverpool was still very down at heel in 1990, so to get that attention from something so iconic was special."

Liverpool's cruise liner heyday was probably in the early 20th century, after emerging as a major port in the mid-19th century.

It greeted world-renowned passengers liners such as the Lusitania, which was eventually torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I.

Ms Mulhearn said: "That was Liverpool's golden age, when those wonderful liners came to the landing stage before trans-Atlantic voyages.

"A lot of the big ships started sailing out of Southampton post-World War I, but the cruise liner industry did continue.

"During the 1920s and 1930s, Cunard operated Mediterranean cruises, and firms like the Pacific Steam Navigation Company operated right through to the late 1950s to South America and the Caribbean.

"It declined because cruises went out of fashion with the introduction of cheap air flights. People found they could reach places quicker.

"The industry has come back slowly in the past 10 years or so, and I do not see any reason why, with the right tourism infrastructure, Liverpool cannot re-establish itself as a cruise destination for the future."

As well as those who sailed on the QE2 as passengers, the ship became the workplace for many Merseysiders.

Ernie Ashley, 63, from Woolton, worked in the QE2's catering department from 1968-71.

He said: "When I was on it, there were a lot of lads from Liverpool and Belfast, who all worked and drank together.

"At the time, it was just another job to us, but looking back, I have some good memories."

That was Liverpool's golden age, when those wonderful liners came to the landing stage before trans-Atlantic voyages.

Facts about the QE2

The QE2 was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on September 20,1967, and was the last passenger ship to be built on the Clyde

She cost just over pounds 29m to build and since then Cunard has spent more than 15 times that amoun ton refurbishments and refits.

She made her maiden voyage in 1969 and is one of the last great Transatlantic liners, able to accommodate 1,900 passengers and 1,015 crew.

She weighs 70,327 tons, is 963ft long and has a top speed of 32.5 knots.

One gallon of fuel moves her just 49.5ft.

In her career the liner has sailed more than 5.3 million nautical miles-further than any ship in history and the equivalent to travelling to the moon and back 12 times.

She has made almost 800 Atlantic crossings and completed more than 20 full world voyages.

In January 1971 the liner rescued passengers from the Antilles, after they had run a ground.

Just over a year later she was the subject of a ransom demand in the mid-Atlantic.

In May 1982 the QE2 was requisitioned for the Falklands War as a troop transport. She arrived safely back in Southampton on June 11 1982.

ECHO Essentials

ALTHOUGH the QE2's visit is not an official public event, space is being made available on the Mersey waterfront for the public to view the liner.

In Liverpool, Princes Parade, on Princes Dock, will be opened for people to see the ship.

Across the river, Wirral council is advising there is ample viewing space to see the QE2 from Woodside.

Mersey Ferries will be sailing as close as possible to the QE2 between 1pm and 6.15pm.

nick.coligan@liverpool.com

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MAJESTIC: The QE2 approaches New Brighton at the start of her one-day visit to Liverpool Picture by EDDIE BARFORD
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 20, 2007
Words:986
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