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Coast Guard searches sea for cruise ship worker

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Because of currents, searchers focusing on area northeast of man's fall
  • Fall from deck off Florida's east coast "clearly accidental," cruise line says
  • Carnival Sensation entertainment employee was off-duty, company says
  • Coast Guard using aircraft, boats to look for man
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(CNN) -- The Coast Guard is searching for a cruise ship employee who fell overboard early Thursday off Florida's east coast.

Six fellow employees saw the off-duty entertainment staff member fall overboard at 12:40 a.m. ET, a Carnival Cruise Lines statement said.

"The eyewitness accounts indicate that this was clearly an accidental overboard," the statement said.

The other employees threw the man a life ring as the Carnival Sensation sailed about 20 miles off Vero Beach, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class James Harless said. Video Watch the cruise ship return and hear passengers' stories »

Harless said the man fell 82 feet into 72-degree water. Harless said he did not know if the man caught the life ring.

The Coast Guard was notified within minutes of the man's fall and began searching for him with an airplane, a rescue helicopter, a Coast Guard cutter, and a small boat dispatched from nearby Fort Pierce, Harless said.

Searchers, accounting for the direction of the currents, have focused on an area northeast of where the incident happened.

Carnival said the Coast Guard released the ship at about 6 a.m., and the vessel arrived at its home port of Port Canaveral, Florida, about 9:25 a.m.

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"Our thoughts and prayers are with this young man at this time as well as with his friends and family," the company statement said.

The Carnival Sensation -- which sails twice weekly to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral -- was returning from a four-day Bahamas cruise that departed Port Canaveral on December 28.

CNN's Melissa Roberts contributed to this report.

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