Passengers on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas, have described the eerie moments on board after members of the cruise failed to return after a volcanic eruption on a day excursion to White Island.

Sydney man Ben Young said he was "sitting on The Ovation of The Seas pondering Tauranga and the volcano tour we didn't go on. Strange, solemn feeling right now," he wrote on Twitter.

Those aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Ovation of the Seas await more word of passengers who had been visiting White Island. File photo / Michael Craig
Those aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Ovation of the Seas await more word of passengers who had been visiting White Island. File photo / Michael Craig

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"Have seen some very emotional scenes tonight. Captain and crew seem to be doing a great job."

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The ship had left Sydney last week and had been scheduled to sail to the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Monday night, but Royal Caribbean said it would instead remain in Tauranga until more was learned about the situation.

KEY POINTS:

• Five people confirmed dead and eight are missing, presumed killed
• 34 people rescued from the island, many with severe burns - 31 remain in hospital
• Police say there are no further signs of life
• Many of the victims are foreign tourists, including from Australia, US, UK, Malaysia and China
• NZ Defence Force to approach island at first light today
• Drones due to be deployed to assess environment

Fellow passenger Kasey Bebrouth from Lismore, New South Wales said she was on board with her husband and said she was "very grateful that we stayed on the ship and we thank everyone for their kind words and worries."

Massive plumes of smoke from Whakaari/White Island. Photo / via zurraspismo on Twitter
Massive plumes of smoke from Whakaari/White Island. Photo / via zurraspismo on Twitter

"We will post more when we know more just know that we are safe," she said.

The mother of one streamed a dance performance that seemed to be given inside the ship on Monday night as a form of entertainment.

Earlier, Mrs Brebrouth had posted pictures and videos from her holiday, saying "awesome day I love new Zealand so far [sic]."

Ovation of the Seas is a regular caller to New Zealand ports. File photo / Paul Taylor
Ovation of the Seas is a regular caller to New Zealand ports. File photo / Paul Taylor

A Mount Maunganui woman known as Caro, posted on Twitter the mood in the town was "eerie" as the cruise ship remained docked in the bay.

"It's an eerie mood here in Mt Maunganui tonight. Looked out my window at #OvationoftheSeas sitting in dock. … quiet & sombre, waiting to see if, in the light of day, it's passengers & crew are returned," she said.

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He said the names and nationalities of passengers were handed to police, and the Ovation of the Seas would stay docked in Tauranga at least overnight.

"I know the cruise ship will be able to compile a list of the tour party and they will be handing that to New Zealand police, and the police will then make a statement on the nationalities," he said.

Interior of The Ovation Of The Seas cruise liner when it was berthed in Auckland. File photo / Doug Sherring
Interior of The Ovation Of The Seas cruise liner when it was berthed in Auckland. File photo / Doug Sherring

"Our hope of course is they will be recovered unharmed and returned back to the ship."

A Royal Caribbean spokesman said: "We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today. We do not have any additional details to share at this time.

"Ovation of the Seas will remain overnight until we learn more about the situation. We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities.

"Please keep all those affected in your prayers."