(5 a.m. EDT) -- A couple has gone overboard while on Carnival Spirit, sparking a major sea and air search off the Australian coastline.
The pair, a 30-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman, from New South Wales were discovered missing today when the ship docked at Sydney's Circular Quay, at the end of a 10-day cruise.
They were last seen on surveillance camera footage which showed them apparently falling from the 88,500-ton, 2,124-passenger ship's mid deck on Wednesday night, when it was about 65 nautical miles off the coast of Forster, a city 185 miles north of Sydney.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, has dispatched an aeroplane, a helicopter and police boats to search a 300-square-nautical mile area of sea.
A statement from Carnival read:
“At approximately 9:15 a.m. today during the debarkation process for Carnival Spirit at the conclusion of a 10-night cruise in Sydney, it became apparent that two guests, a 26-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man, were unaccounted for. The ship immediately initiated standard missing person procedures including a full search of the vessel as per protocol. The guests in question were travelling with family and friends and initial reports indicate that the couple was last seen onboard the vessel last night.
“We have naturally been concerned since we became aware that two passengers were missing from Carnival Spirit and our thoughts are clearly with their families at this difficult time. We are working closely with New South Wales Police and assisting them in their inquiries.”
The ship docked at 6:30 a.m. today (4:30 p.m. Wednesday EDT) at Sydney after a cruise through the Pacific Islands. When it docked, crew onboard searched for the missing pair before contacting police at 11.30 a.m. Officers then did a thorough search of the ship but could not locate the pair.
A statement from NSW Police said: "An air and marine search and rescue operation is underway off the coast of Forster for two people missing from a cruise ship. Officers attached to Marine Area Command reviewed CCTV footage and determined the pair had gone overboard about 8.50 p.m. on Wednesday (8 May, 2013). Police and Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) have determined a search area approximately 60Nm east of Forster and have deployed aircraft and marine vessels.
Officers are investigating the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the pair and, in these early stages, are focused on the search efforts."
The Carnival Spirit arrived in Sydney last year and became the largest ship to call Australia home year round.
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor