"The man was traveling in the Oasis (of the Seas). It was early in the morning. He doesn't remember how he fell. Fortunately, another cruise, the Disney Magic, saw him," said Cozumel Port Captain Alfonso Rodríguez.
The lucky man, a 22-year-old U.S. citizen, had been in the water for about five hours during last Thursday's ordeal, Rodriguez said.
"At 7:31 a.m. a passenger aboard Disney Magic reported a man in the water. The passenger had thrown multiple lifesavers in the water to help him," said Rodriguez. "They rescued him and gave him medical attention."
The man was taken to a local hospital and was in good condition before he was flown back to the United States, Rodriguez said.
"This man was reborn. Most people that experience that kind of fall break their neck. It's like hitting concrete," he said.
Rescue caught on camera
David Hearn, a Disney Magic passenger, recorded the rescue. In his video, a yellow rescue boat bobs on dark ocean waters, and a man's head and arms are barely visible above the waves. The man then swims toward the boat and is brought aboard.
"We were in our stateroom. On the speaker system, we heard the crew saying 'Mister M-O-B, starboard side.' I got dressed and went up to the upper deck," Hearn said. M-O-B is the code used for "man overboard."
When Hearn reached the Magic's upper deck, the ship's crew had already lowered the lifeboat.
"It was pretty surreal at first. It's not something you expect when you go on a nice cruise," Hearn said. "Our first question was, where did he come from? We thought it was someone that fell off our ship."
Hearn said he spoke to the passenger credited with spotting the man in the water.
"His daughter had gotten up, and they had a room with a balcony. She wanted to sit out there, and he went with her," Hearn recalled. "They heard a noise, and as the ship got closer, they realized it was a man screaming for help. They got on the phone with guest services, and the ship came to a stop."
Safety at sea?
Royal Caribbean closed-circuit TV video showed the man was alone on the Oasis ship Deck 5 when he went overboard at 6:07 a.m. "There were no other guests or crew around at the time," said Cynthia Martinez, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman.
CNN's request for the video was denied.
Oasis of the Seas is one of the world's largest ships, with room for more than 8,000 passengers and crew. It had departed from Port Everglades, Florida, on January 3, and Cozumel was the last port of call, Martinez said.
The ship's safety features include a minimum safety railing of 42 inches and more than 1,200 security cameras.
"For their (passengers') safety, we recommend that guests not lean over or climb on any railing," said Martinez.
But Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker says these measures are not enough. Instead, he advocates automatic man overboard detection systems.
"This poor guy was pretty lucky. The real issues is why he fell off the ship and why there is no clear explanation," Walker said.
Automatic man overboard detection technology uses radar and sensors to establish a perimeter around a ship. A mechanism notifies the crew when a person has fallen overboard. One manufacturer of these systems, Mobtronic, boasted a 95% man overboard detection rate.
The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act requires large passenger ships to "integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available."
Unlike this incident, Walker said, the problem with most man overboard cases is that the person is never found and the case goes unsolved.
"There are some people who commit suicide," he said. "The suicides are easily detected because the person leaves a message or doesn't bring any luggage onto the ship, or they sell their homes, et cetera. But there are a whole group of cases that don't fall on the suicide pattern. There are other cases which we suspect are a result of foul play."
A website that tracks man overboard cases, CruiseJunkie.com, listed 243 cases since 1995.