A brand new £500 million cruise ship has sailed to the rescue of hundreds of tourists stranded by the Icelandic ash cloud.
A fleet of coaches was waiting in Bilbao as the 122,000-tonne Celebrity Eclipse sailed into the northern Spanish port.
The coaches carrying stranded holidaymakers hit the roads to Bilbao on Wednesday from all over Spain to meet up with the luxury liner.
The £500 million ship left Southampton on Tuesday for what is thought to be one of the largest peacetime repatriations of people to the UK. Some of the delayed holidaymakers - including around 500 children - were stranded for up to seven days and many were on package holiday Easter breaks.
Celebrity Cruises warned other Britons desperate to get back home not to turn up at the port to try to get aboard because they will not be allowed.
A spokeswoman said: "Unfortunately we cannot help everybody. Celebrity Eclipse can only make one repatriation sailing and our Bilbao pick-up will be restricted to customers of Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook and Co-op Travel Group who have been allocated a space aboard the ship."
The spokeswoman called the mission a "massive logistical operation".
President and chief executive of Celebrity Cruises, Dan Hanrahan said: "We have the manifests from Thomas Cook, TUI and Co-op Travel Group and we are working really hard to finalise everyone's cabin. This is a bigger logistical challenge than we are used to, but we have everything under control and we will get all the guests onboard as fast as possible and into a comfortable bed."
The ship was to be in Britain for inaugural celebrations before a two-day launch cruise, but the crisis caused by the volcanic eruption changed plans. Tour operators requested the voyage to get the Britons home and Celebrity Cruises responded in what was described as "an act of goodwill".
Eclipse, which can carry 2,850 passengers, will get back to Southampton on Friday and should dock at the City Cruise Terminal at around 6pm.