- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

ST. NAZAIRE, France (AP) — Inaugurating its reign as the world’s largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2 sliced into the dark waters of the Atlantic yesterday, seen off by tens of thousands of onlookers and jets streaking the skies red, white and blue.

The gigantic, shimmering vessel dwarfed tugboats that pulled it out to sea for its new British owner, Cunard Lines.

But memories of 15 persons killed when a gangway to the ship collapsed on visitors’ day five weeks ago dampened the mood in St. Nazaire. The victims were mostly workers’ relatives on a tour and members of a cleaning crew.

An estimated 70,000 people from around the region lined the port and beaches of St. Nazaire to see the giant ship, said Jean-Christophe Tellet, chief of staff for the town police.

The Union Jack and Cunard’s flag — a gold lion against a red background — were hoisted aboard Queen Mary 2 in a turnover ceremony to the shipping company yesterday. Military jets trailing red, white and blue smoke — the colors of the French flag — flew overhead as it left port.

The ship will moor in its British home port of Southampton later this week, after a cruise via Spain for technical tests and to accustom the crew to life on board.

Queen Elizabeth II will officially name the vessel in a ceremony Jan. 8. Its 14-day maiden voyage, from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is scheduled to start Jan. 12.

About 800 companies, mostly French, were involved in building the $800 million Queen Mary 2. The keel was laid in July 2002. It is 1,138 feet long and 238 feet high — as tall as a 21-story building — and can accommodate 2,600 passengers.

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