UK shipyards are likely to be passed over next month when Southampton-ased Cunard Line announces the winner of the contract to build the world’s first transatlantic liner for over 30 years.
Cunard needs to select a yard to build a sister ship for the QE2, which was built at the John Brown yard on the Clyde in the 1960s.
The 110,000 tonne vessel will probably come into service in 2003 and cost in excess of $600m.
A Cunard spokesman said that the yards bidding for the contract were all European and would be chosen on the criteria of capability and price.
However, he refused to be drawn on whether UK yards were in the race for what is the most prestigious shipbuilding deal in decades.
Experts believe that apart from Harland and Wolff in Belfast, UK yards are either too small, such as Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, or not deep enough, such as the Govan yard on Clydebank, to cope with building a ship of this size.
Italian state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri’s yard near Trieste, the Chantiers d’Atlantique yard in St Nazaire, France, and yards in Finland and Germany are all large enough to mount a successful bid.
US shipping giant Carnival’s takeover of the ailing Cunard Line earlier this year prompted the scheme to exploit Cunard’s traditional role as the QE2’s operator.