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Titanic sister ship refurbished

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The interior of the SS Nomadic in Belfast, which has been restored to its former glory

The interior of the SS Nomadic in Belfast, which has been restored to its former glory

PA

The interior of the SS Nomadic in Belfast, which has been restored to its former glory

A ship used to take well-heeled voyagers to the doomed Titanic liner has opened to passengers again after a £9 million refurbishment.

The SS Nomadic - the last remaining vessel of the White Star Line - is expected to attract more than 44,000 visitors to Belfast over the next year following a refit lasting the best part of a decade.

Wealthy ticket-holders for the Titanic's maiden and only journey from Southampton via northern France and Ireland to New York supped Tom Collins cocktails on board surrounded by detailed wood carvings and ornate plasterwork. Bare bones accommodation catered for the limited number of third-class travellers.

The Titanic's little sister, which ferried passengers the short journey from the shallow waters of Cherbourg harbour to the ocean-going behemoth, was on Friday nestled in a dry dock near where it was built a century ago, now restored to its former glory.

Denis Rooney, chairman of the SS Nomadic Charitable Trust, said: "This reinforces the message of Belfast's former pre-eminence as a maritime city. You can touch the steel hull and rivets, which you cannot do anywhere else, you can walk the decks. This was built at the height of Belfast's pre-eminence as a maritime city - this is a reminder of those days."

It is situated in a dry dock beside the River Lagan in Belfast, where it was constructed in 1911 by Harland and Wolff shipyard workers at the same time as the Titanic, which sank with the loss of 1,500 lives in the Northern Atlantic the following year.

Tourists enter through the first-class lounge, which is decorated with the same painstaking care and to the same design as the Titanic following a seven-year facelift.

The Nomadic was bought at auction in France in 2006 for 250,000 euro (£214,000) following years of neglect. It sits in the shadow of the multi-million pound Titanic visitor's centre, which massively exceeded its projected numbers.

Stormont Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said: "Northern Ireland's contribution to world maritime history has long been known and now we can lay claim to safeguarding the world's one and only surviving White Star Line ship, built and restored to glory in Belfast."

Restoration work, funded by European and National Lottery grants, was meticulous and involved removing tonnes of barnacles and scraping off layers of toxic paint. Many of the volunteers toasted their hard work during the official opening on Friday.