RESCUERS searching for a British woman believed to have fallen overboard from a Southampton-based cruise ship in the Mediterranean have recovered a body.

The passenger was reported missing on the Aurora as it sailed from the Portuguese city Oporto to Barcelona yesterday, P&O Cruises said.

The ship's crew were alerted and ordered an immediate search of the area which failed to find the as-yet unnamed woman.

However, shortly after 6.30pm authorities said a body had been discovered in the sea.

Authorities have been providing assistance for the missing woman's family, the cruise operator said.

The Aurora left Southampton for a 14-night western Mediterranean cruise on Wednesday.

P&O Cruises confirmed all passengers on board were British.

A statement from the firm today, before the body was found, said: “We can confirm a missing female presumed overboard from Aurora sailing from Oporto to Barcelona. The ship turned round to search for her and all relevant authorities have been advised.

“Aurora is on a 14-night Western Mediterranean cruise which left Southampton on Wednesday September 26. Our care team is supporting the family and offering assistance.”

Passengers on the Aurora expressed their shock today.

Pat Rodgers, 70, from Sheffield, said the missing woman was believed to be in her 70s and on holiday with her daughter.

Mrs Rodgers said the water had been "very choppy" and people on board were "sad and subdued" as a major air and sea search operation took place.

She said: "The captain made an announcement over the loudspeaker at 8.10am this morning and asked everyone to help keep a lookout.

"There have been planes and a helicopter circling overhead and the lifeboats are out. The helicopter has gone back to Lisbon now to refuel. We can see other cruise ships and cargo ships all helping with the search.

"We heard that the woman is 72 and was on holiday with her daughter but we don't know how she fell in.

"The passengers are all very sad and subdued as the outlook doesn't look good. The sea is very choppy. We are just so concerned for this woman and her family. It is awful.

"The crew have been great. They are keeping things calm and the captain is giving frequent updates."