Cunard's magnificent Queens lined up three abreast for the first time at sea

Cunard's magnificent Queens lined up three abreast for the first time at sea in a dramatic photo shoot as the fleet sailed from Lisbon to Southampton to mark flagship Queen Mary 2's 10th anniversary.

The world's grandest ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, and her sister ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria left Lisbon ahead of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's visit to celebrate the milestone in Southampton on Friday May 9.

“This is the first time all three Queens of the Cunard fleet have been seen together anywhere outside Southampton or New York, and the first time these magnificent ships have been seen together at sea,” Cunard Director Angus Struthers said.

Photographer James Morgan took to the skies in a helicopter to capture the iconic shots of the three ships sailing in formation.

While it may look effortless the images were the result of a long planning operation in which the safety of the vessels and the thousands of people upon them was paramount.

“Most of the work in this type of photography is actually in the preparation beforehand. When you are dealing with the largest ocean liner in the world,  you can't sit in a helicopter asking if it can go left a bit or right a bit because it doesn’t work like that.  A three ship formation like this has to be finely coordinated and choreographed ahead of time.  It's not like directing traffic - this is more like ship ballet,” James said.

The months of planning included a logistical meeting with the captains and crew of the three ships to schedule down to the minutest detail how the photo shoot would come about.

It took the three ships around an hour to sail out of Lisbon to the site of the shoot.  All shipping in the area had to be totally cleared for the three Queens to ensure absolute safety for the technical manoeuvre.

 Queen Mary 2, the only ocean liner in service today and still the fastest passenger ship afloat ten years after she was named by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004, is on the final leg of her world cruise and her sister ships were on hand to escort her home in style.

Since entering service the 151,400-tonne Queen Mary 2 has sailed 1.5 million nautical miles on over 400 voyages including 213 transatlantic crossings. She has called at 182 ports in 60 countries and carried over 1.3 million guests.

The 90,900-tonne Queen Elizabeth is the newest member of the Cunard family, having been named by Her Majesty The Queen in 2010, while Queen Victoria was named in 2007 by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and is the smallest of the Queens at 90,000 tonnes.