AUTHORITIES are waiting to identify a body found by rescuers searching for a British woman who fell overboard from a Southampton-based cruise ship in the Atlantic.

The passenger was reported missing on the Aurora as it sailed from the Spanish city La Coruna to Barcelona, P&O Cruises said.

The ship's crew were alerted and yesterday ordered an immediate search for the woman, who has not yet been named.

Cruise ship Thomson Spirit, which was en route to Cadiz, was reported to have joined in the search off the coast of Portugal, north west of Lisbon.

It is understood that passengers were informed of the discovery of the body through an announcement from the ship's captain, Ian Hutley.

Formal identification is not expected to take place until early next week, a spokeswoman for P&O Cruises said.

Authorities and P&O Cruises' care team are now providing assistance for the missing woman's family, the cruise operator said.

A statement from P&O Cruises said: ''Our care team is supporting the family and offering assistance.''

The Aurora left Southampton for a 14-night western Mediterranean cruise on Wednesday. P&O Cruises confirmed that all passengers on board were British.

Pat Rodgers, who is on board the Aurora with her husband, Joseph, said the woman was believed to be in her 70s and on holiday with her daughter.

Mrs Rodgers, 70, from Sheffield, said the water had been ''very choppy'' and fellow passengers were ''sad and subdued''.

She said that planes and helicopters circled overhead to assist lifeboats in the search.

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

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