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20 April 2010, 10:23 | Updated: 20 April 2010, 10:38
Inaugural celebrations on a new £500-million cruise ship were put on hold so it could head from Southampton to Spain to pick up British tourists stranded by air delays caused by volcanic ash.
The 122,000-tonne Celebrity Eclipse, which boasts its own lawn has left Southampton for Bilbao.
The luxury vessel was to be in port before a two-day launch cruise on Thursday but the crisis caused by the Iceland volcanic eruption changed plans. It is thought that tour operators requested the voyage to pick up around 2,000 stranded Britons desperate to get home. Even though British airspace is likely to open, the backlog will take days to get through.
Eclipse, which can carry 2,850 passengers, will make the journey and get back to Southampton late on Friday.
She is scheduled to arrive in Bilbao in the early hours of April 22. Stranded holidaymakers will embark throughout the morning and Eclipse will return to Southampton, arriving late on Friday evening.
A spokeswoman said the sailing would replace the activities planned during the two-night, round-trip launch celebration cruise from Southampton. Some of the delayed holidaymakers have been stranded for up to seven days and many were on package holidays with major UK tour operators.<
Richard Fain, chairman of Celebrity Cruises, said: "The events affecting air travel are completely unprecedented, and it is in times like these that the global travel industry needs to pull together. Collecting stranded British and Irish holidaymakers is a fitting first mission for new ship Celebrity Eclipse.''