Search called off after woman falls from P&O Cruises ship

A crew member saw the woman fall off the Pacific Dawn at about 4pm when it was 300km west of Pacific island New Caledonia

P&O said in a statement it had searched throughout the night and into the morning after first light without success.

"It is with a very heavy heart that I need to let you know that we have been unable to locate our guest", the captain, speaking from the bridge, told passengers in a recording published by News Corp.

The rescue effort was hampered by challenging conditions.

A Brisbane man holidaying on the ship with his family, who also requested not to be identified, told AAP conditions in the search area are rough.

Mr Jones said the ship continued in a search pattern throughout the night.

In line with normal procedure, the Pacific Dawn incident has been referred to Queensland Police and to the Coroner for appropriate inquiries.

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The passenger said suggestions the woman was knocked overboard by a wave were incorrect although she was unsure how the incident occurred on Thursday afternoon near New Caledonia. "They (P&O) haven't said where she fell from".

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and New Caledonian authorities issued a call for nearby vessels to assist in the search. Police say there do not appear to be any suspicious circumstances at this time, but investigators will meet the ship when it arrives in Brisbane early Sunday.

Both AMSA and P&O said their thoughts and prayers were with the woman's family, which had been notified.

While the passenger said the emergency was handled well by crew she added there has been no official announcement about where the woman fell from.

Operator P&O Cruises says the Pacific Dawn immediately turned around to search for the woman after she fell from the ship in the Coral Sea, nearly 200 miles of New Caledonia, but they couldn't spot any trace of her, the BBC reports. It had left Brisbane last Saturday on a seven-night "Pacific Island Hopper" cruise.