Channel's largest ferry sails into Calais after successful voyage

The largest ferry to cross the world's busiest waterway completed its maiden voyage yesterday.

VIPs boarded P&O Ferries' new 152 million ship, Spirit of Britain, at Dover in Kent before its 90-minute trip across the English Channel to Calais.

The 49,000-tonne ship can hold as many as 2,000 passengers and has three vehicle decks capable of carrying nearly two-and-a-half miles (4km) of traffic end-to-end.

P&O officials said the British-flagged vessel – which can reach up to 22 knots – opens a new era in cross-Channel travel.

Chief executive Helen Deeble said: "She offers a leap forward in terms of her size and quality of the build. I'm sure she will provide a fantastic experience for all of the customers who will travel on her in the years to come."

The ship's design features a unique hull form that reduces drag in shallow waters and boosts fuel economy.

At 213 metres long and 31.4 metres wide, the ship needs special docking facilities at both Dover and Calais.

Car drivers get on board across a private deck with special lanes for those selecting priority loading. Spaces can be reserved for those wanting to use the airport-style shops.

Freight drivers, whose lorries go on two lower decks, have their own showers, restaurant and relaxation area.