Woman overboard after freak wave
A DESPERATE search was mounted overnight for a woman lost at sea after falling from a Brisbane-bound cruise ship near New Caledonia.
The 245m P&O Pacific Dawn cruise liner spent hours yesterday circling in rough seas while staff scoured the ocean for the woman.
Several passengers said the woman went outside to vomit as she was seasick, and she was thrown overboard when a wave hit the vessel.
A Melbourne passenger said the woman's husband saw her fall and immediately went into shock. He said three life rings were thrown out but returned empty.
The man, who is staying on deck six, said waves were crashing halfway up the ship.
Conditions were so rough that tender boats were unable to enter the water and as the sun set staff were forced to use the vessel's search lights to scan the ocean waves, a Bundaberg passenger said.
"We heard the 'man overboard' announcement around 5pm," the passenger said. "The boat stopped and turned, life rings were thrown out and we are still searching."
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and New Caledonian authorities issued a plea for nearby vessels to assist in the search.
But an AMSA spokeswoman said there were no other rescue boats tasked in the search with the liner left to trawl the area alone.
Passengers last night told The Courier-Mail the search was expected to last until at least midnight.
"To be honest, it's all very sad," one woman said.
"Music continued to play after the announcement, 'man overboard, port side' and tonight the Gatsby night still went ahead."
Others took to social media with fears for the woman, who they said was travelling with her husband and children.
The ship, which has room for 1546 guests, left Brisbane on Saturday on a seven-day round trip to Vanuatu.
P&O spokesman David Jones said the woman fell about 4pm, 150 nautical miles west of New Caledonia.
"A crew member notified the bridge straight away and the 'man overboard' incident response was activated immediately," a statement read.
"In line with this response, Pacific Dawn turned around to follow the course it was on at the time of the incident."
Another passenger said the ship left Port Vila yesterday and was headed back to Brisbane when the woman fell.
"Everything on board is continuing as normal although the mood is somewhat sombre," she said.
After midnight a passenger from the Gold Coast said the display screen on board suggested the ship was heading back to Brisbane at a speed of 7.5 knots, but there had been no official announcement.