The Coast Guard on Tuesday evening gave up its search for a 21-year-old woman who fell overboard Sunday night from a cruise ship about 47 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.
The Bartlett, Tenn., woman was seen going overboard by another passenger on Royal Caribbean's mega-ship Allure of the Seas, the same day the ship had kicked off a seven-night Caribbean itinerary from Port Everglades.
The ship remained at sea Tuesday, but was scheduled to make its port of call at St. Maarten on Wednesday.
"It's always unfortunate when we have to suspend a search, because our main focus is to local the individual and return her safely to her family," said Capt. Todd Lutz in a statement from the Coast Guard. More than 2,300 square miles were searched, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard said it was notified by Allure of the Seas of the woman's disappearance about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, or about two hours after the passenger fell overboard.
The time it took to notify the Coast Guard concerned Jim Walker, a Miami maritime lawyer whose firm has handled cruise ship disappearance and crime cases.
Walker said Coast Guard regulations — and requirements of most cruise ship safety management systems — state that a vessel must notify the Coast Guard and other vessels in the vicinity if an overboard person is not immediately located in the water.
"Why search the ship or order a muster and head count if an eyewitness saw the woman go overboard as initially reported?" asked Walker, who is not involved in the case. "The chances of drowning increase substantially and the search area increases dramatically due to the delay."
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 "and they commit to sending assets to help search."
About 9:25 p.m., an Allure of the Seas passenger reported she thought she saw someone go overboard, Martinez said. Crew members verified that by making multiple announcements and reviewing closed-circuit television footage.
The Coast Guard was notified when the cruise ship found "the incident on the recording," Martinez said. "From the video, we could pinpoint the exact time and location using Global Positioning System and provided that information to [the] Coast Guard."
A Royal Caribbean news release said that when the witness reported the passenger overboard, the captain "immediately stopped the ship" and turned it around. Two other cruise ships helped Allure of the Seas scour the waters, and the Coast Guard took full control of the search about 3:30 a.m. Monday.