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Missing cruise ship passenger hunted

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Daniel Dipiero, 21, has been missing since Monday.

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- U.S. and Bahamian authorities conducted an air and sea search Tuesday for a 21-year-old man presumed to have fallen Monday from an ocean liner during a Caribbean cruise.

Daniel Dipiero, of Augusta, Ohio, was reported missing Monday morning from Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas cruise liner, but ship officials did not alert the U.S. Coast Guard until eight hours later, the Guard said.

"They were notified at 11 yesterday morning; they sent an e-mail to us that we received at 7 o'clock last night," Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss said.

Michael Sheehan, director of communications for Royal Caribbean, said the delay was the result of the protocol all cruise ships must follow after receiving missing-person reports, several of which can occur on any given day aboard a cruise ship.

The protocol involves making "a multitude of announcements" followed by multiple searches of the ship itself, each of which can take hours, he said.

The ship, one of the largest in the world, was carrying 3,351 passengers and a crew of 1,223 when it left Port Canaveral, Florida.

It docked briefly at Coco Cay, Bahamas, a private island owned by the company about 50 miles northwest of Nassau, "and we did a sweep of Coco Cay to ensure somehow he didn't get off the ship and we didn't know it," Sheehan said.

Only then was the Coast Guard notified, he said.

The man's companions said they last saw him at about midnight Sunday, when he told them he was going to bed, Sheehan said.

The ship was en route from Port Canaveral to Coco Cay when the incident occurred.

But a security camera shows the man alone on an outside portion of a deck on the starboard side of the ship between 12:12 a.m. and 2:16 a.m. Monday, Royal Caribbean said in a written statement.

"He is seen standing at the ship's railing, however, most of that time he was reclining in a deck chair," it said.

Searchers focused on the area west of Grand Bahama where the ship was at that time, said Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the 87-foot Coast Guard cutter Dolphin scoured the west end of Grand Bahama halfway to Freeport and a C-130 searched a 230-square mile area from the air.

In addition, a Falcon jet was dispatched to search a 48-square-mile area of the 77-degree waters.

The FBI is to board the ship Wednesday in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lightning and stormy weather delayed the onset of the search until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Dipiero had been traveling in a party of seven: three male friends of his age in one cabin and the mother of one of the men and two of her friends in another, Sheehan said. The trip was to have lasted seven nights.

According to the International Council of Cruise Lines, 24 people were reported missing aboard cruise ships over a three-year period ending March 2005.

Since then, two other such cases have occurred, a council spokeswoman said, citing the Royal Caribbean case and one aboard a Costa cruise liner earlier this year.

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