A key stage has been reached in the construction of the biggest British cruise ship.

A traditional coin-laying ceremony was held at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where P&O Cruises 5,200-passenger Iona is being built.

A bronze coin from the historic Iona Abbey and a slice of Iona marble from the island were placed under the block housing the bow thrusters before the block was then lowered onto these items.

The 180,000-ton Iona, powered by liquefied natural gas, is due to be launched in May 2020.

The ship will spend its first summer running seven-night cruises to the Norwegian fjords from Southampton followed by winter sun sailings to the Canary Islands, Spain and Portugal.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow, who attended the event, said: “This was an auspicious occasion in Iona’s build.

“The coin-laying is a long-held ship-building tradition which is to bring good luck to the ship and its crew through from construction to the future at sea.

“It is very special to think that a small part of the island of Iona will live within our own Iona. We hope that the qualities of beauty, heritage, pride, camaraderie, mutual support and loyalty from the island which attracted us to the name will be inherent in our ship, its crew and guests.”

He added: “The build of any ship is an incredible achievement but to see one of this size and scope is an extraordinary feat of skilled design and engineering.

“To view Iona’s SkyDome take shape was literally breath-taking – no other ship in the world has a glass dome of this quality of construction and scale.

“The extent of the space on Iona has allowed us to create not only spectacular spaces for shows, entertainment, dining and wellness but also many more intimate spaces for tranquility and relaxation as well as exclusive performances. Iona will be game-changer for holidays.”

As part of the ceremony the ship’s central steel block, the mega block, which has already been constructed was floated out on to the water.

The 21.5 metre long block weighs 461 tons, is 19.4 metres wide and 9.8 metres high and had to be lifted by a 600-ton crane.

The next steps are the block assembly of the bow and forward part of the ship in the dock as well as the further outfitting of the mega block in the harbour basin.

The mega block will be brought inside to the building dock in August to be welded to the forward part.

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