The storm-battered ship Norwegian Dawn (search) was coming back to New York through gale-force winds to make a scheduled TV shoot for "The Apprentice" (search) -- a product placement that cost the cruise company more than $1 million, sources said Tuesday.

Donald Trump confirmed that the ship -- slammed by a 70-foot "freak wave" during the storm -- was slated to be shot in New York early Sunday morning for an episode of his show.

"We would love to have had them, but obviously they weren't able to make it," Trump told The Post.

Norwegian Cruise Line admitted the ship's return had been pushed up a week before departure -- from 10 a.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. -- but attributed the change to "operational reasons" and refused to elaborate.

But a source close to the show said Norwegian paid Trump's producers a seven-figure sum for the ship to appear in the show -- a big marketing coup. "They wanted to be on 'The Apprentice' because it's such a hot show," the source said.

Shaken passengers returned to New York a day late Monday morning, telling horror stories of the all-night storm and freak wave that struck on the way from the Bahamas (search).

A New York travel agent with 35 years' experience said it was distressing Norwegian may have put the 8 a.m. Sunday filming session before the safety of its passengers.

"In the event of a storm, it's normal for a cruise ship to sail away from it, even if that means they'll be delayed in coming back," said the agent, who had clients on the cruise. "It's not uncommon to alter course in severe weather."

Passenger Aldin Mamish, from New Jersey, said he was convinced the ship had been pushing to make port. "[It] should have stayed and waited for the storm to pass," said Mamish, 48, "but [it] didn't."

Norwegian spokeswoman Susan Robison last night refused to comment on the filming for "The Apprentice" or on the $1 million fee. But she denied the captain was under any pressure to hurry back.

She said the captain had believed he could steer through the edges of the storm, but that it behaved differently than forecast. She said the captain slowed the ship to a low speed of only four knots to minimize the rocking of the ship and discomfort for the passengers.

"There was no place to steer around," she said. "The captain acted completely appropriately, with his No.1 interest being the safety of the passengers and crew. We were not rushing anywhere."