By Gerald McGill

September 20th, 2012  9:30am

The U.S. Coast Guard announced Tuesday night that it was ending its search for a cruise passenger who fell overboard from a cruise ship approximately 50 miles off the east coast of Florida Sunday night.

At about 9:25 p.m. on Sunday night a passenger aboard Royal Caribbean’s mega-ship, the Allure of the Seas reported seeing a woman going overboard.  This was apparently verified by closed circuit security camera footage.

A Royal Caribbean news release said that when the witness reported the passenger overboard, the Captain “immediately stopped the ship” and turned it around to search for the overboard passenger.  At that point the ship was approximately 50 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida enroute to Nassau in the Bahamas.

A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said that the Coast Guard was notified when the cruise ship found “the incident on the recording.”  The spokeswoman also said: “From the video, we could pinpoint the exact time and location using Global Positioning System and provided that information to the Coast Guard.”

However, the Coast Guard said it was notified of the woman’s disappearance about 11:30 p.m. Sunday about 2 hours after the passenger fell overboard.  The Coast Guard dispatched the Cutter Bernard C. Webber, a 154-foot fast response vessel based at Miami Beach, to the scene.  The Coast Guard took full control of the search about 3:30 a.m. Monday and searched over 2,300 square miles before suspending the search Tuesday evening.

The FBI said it would investigate what caused the passenger, who has only been identified as a 21-year-old woman from Tennessee, to fall overboard from the cruise ship.

The most troubling aspect of this tragedy is why the ship waited two hours before notifying the Coast Guard.  Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said the process of making sure a passenger is not onboard takes some time.  She said such verification is necessary before the Coast Guard is notified “and they commit to sending assets to help search”.

However, in this case a witness reported seeing another passenger go overboard and video footage verified this.  The important fact was that “someone” had fallen overboard.  Determining who had fallen overboard should not have delayed notifying the Coast Guard.  Hopefully the FBI investigation will address this issue.

More about Maritime Law.

Gerald McGill is a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a former Commanding Officer of two Coast Guard Cutters

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He also hosts the weekly DeSmogCAST and serves as co-host for Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced