84-year-old 'could not have survived' fall from cruise ship

The Sun Princess arrived in Sydney this morning after returning to sea in an attempt to find a man lost overboard.

The ship arrived at White Bay Cruise Terminal at 8.08am NZT, according to the Port Authority of New South Wales.

The Sun Princess is still in Sydney this afternoon.

"She's doing the turnaround that would've happened yesterday with passengers having disembarked and people joining the ship for the cruise," said David Jones, a spokesman for Princess Cruises' parent company Carnival Australia.

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He said the ship was now heading to Fiji, not Vanuatu as previously reported. The ship would then sail to other South Pacific destinations.

A police unit, the New South Wales Marine Area Command, were investigating and the matter would be referred to the coroner.

"We're going to be co-operating fully with authorities in relation to the matter," Mr Jones said.

The company said affected passengers would receive a refund for one day of their cruise and also have NZ$54 paid to their on-board account.

The elderly Australian man, presumed dead after falling 25m into rough seas from a cruise ship, was missing for more than four hours before his disappearance was reported.

Nobody saw the 84 year-old man fall into the Tasman Sea. But his fall from the Sun Princess was captured on CCTV footage at 10.40pm NZT yesterday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

A Princess Cruises spokeswoman said family told cruise staff the man was missing at about 2.30am NZT.

Senior Constable Angela Corbett of New South Wales Police said it was unlikely police would release the man's name. "In general, we need approval from family but it is still under investigation so it has not got to that stage."

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Yesterday afternoon, New South Wales police took over the case from the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Canberra.

"Investigators do not believe there are any suspicious circumstances, and a report will be prepared for the information of the coroner," Ms Corbett said.

The ship was about 320km east of Sydney, travelling from Auckland to Sydney after a 13-night New Zealand cruise when the passenger fell.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Libby Moffet said the ship turned back yesterday morning but there was no sign of the man.

AMSA stopped searching for the passenger on receiving expert medical advice indicating "the man was very unlikely to have survived when he entered the water given the height."

The advice also indicated the man would have survived in the water given his age, clothing and the weather conditions at the time of the incident.

AMSA sent a Dornier search and rescue aircraft to the search area. There were no sightings of the man.

"Sea conditions in the area were rough with swells up to three metres," the authority said. "In consultation with the Master of the Sun Princess, the operating company and the next of kin, the search effort has concluded."

Princess Cruises said passengers onboard received regular updates regarding their delayed arrival in Sydney and were being helped with onward travel arrangements.

A cruise ship safety campaigner said a "man overboard" system could save lives or inform crew immediately when someone fell from a ship.

"When somebody does go overboard a cruise ship, it could be hours or days" before anyone knew, said Kendall Carver, International Cruise Victims chairman.

But Mr Carver said man overboard systems could include lasers that automatically detected any falling human body.

Two hundred and thirty-nine people had been lost overboard on cruise ships since 2000, the cruisejunkie.com website said.

The website said 16 of those cases were from Princess ships. This year, 19 people were lost overboard, two from Princess ships.

"Industry testing of man overboard detection systems is currently ongoing as they are emerging technologies, which face unique challenges in a marine environment," Ms Moffet said.