A cruise ship has suspended its search for a woman passenger who went overboard.

"With the deepest sadness, P&O Cruises has confirmed the suspension of Pacific Dawn's search for the female guest who was seen to go overboard from the ship late yesterday afternoon approximately 150 nautical miles [278km] from New Caledonia," a spokesman for the shipping company, David Jones, said this morning.

"The difficult decision to suspend the search was made only after expert advice that survival after this length of time in difficult sea conditions and after a full night at sea was not considered possible.

"The search, which began immediately after a crew member reported a guest had been seen to go over the side of the ship, was suspended in consultation with maritime rescue authorities.

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"Pacific Dawn has now resumed her course for Brisbane where preparations are being made for a late arrival on completion of the current seven night [cruise] to the South Pacific.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the guest's family at this distressing time."

The crew member saw the woman fall over the side of the ship yesterday at about 4pm Australian eastern standard time (6pm in New Zealand).

"A crew member notified the bridge straight away and the 'man overboard' incident response was activated immediately," Jones said yesterday.

P&O's Pacific Dawn.
P&O's Pacific Dawn.

"In line with this response, Pacific Dawn turned around to follow the course it was on at the time of the incident."

The Australian Maritime Safety Bureau and New Caledonian authorities issued a call for nearby vessels to assist in the search.

Earlier Brisbane man Damien Pesch, who is holidaying on the ship with his family, told AAP conditions in the search area were rough, with 3 to 4 metre swells and night having already fallen.

Mr Pesch said little information was being given to passengers about the situation other than they were searching for the missing woman. The ship had been on a week-long cruise of Pacific Islands, leaving Brisbane last Saturday.

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The ship was in the Coral Sea, bound for Brisbane on the return leg when the incident occurred.

Another man, Jon Trevithick, believed to be a passenger on the ship posted a picture on Twitter at 5.30pm, of a lone rescue ring in the sea. "Horrendous here on ship," he wrote. "Ship going round and round searching".

Asked if it was "just an exercise" he replied: "This is real".