The captain of crippled cruise ship Costa Concordia is reported to have defied orders to return to the vessel during the evacuation after it hit rocks on Friday night.
Italian media published a recording of a conversation claimed to be between Captain Francesco Schettino and port authorities in which the captain was ordered not to abandon his stricken ship.
Existence of the audio tape emerged as five more bodies were recovered from the shipwreck off Italy, bringing the death toll up to 11 with 23 still unaccounted for.
Prosecutors have accused Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated. He has been held in jail but, after a court hearing, is reportedly being placed under house arrest in Naples.
He had begun by claiming everything was fine, shortly before the ship keeled over off the Tuscan coast with 4,200 on board, according to the timings of the recording.
At 9.49pm he was asked by a port official over the ship radio: “Concordia, is everything OK?” The response from the ship was “positive”, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.
But five minutes later the operations room at the port of Livorno was said to have contacted the ship again after a passenger had allegedly reported a problem via their mobile phone and mentioned the word “shipwreck”.
By 12.42am, the captain was said to have claimed there were only about 40 people missing and said he was not on board. The recording of his conversation with Italian coast guard Captain Gregorio De Falco indicated his response was met with fury and an order that he return to his ship.
“You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are,” Captain De Falco reportedly shouted. “Is that clear?”
But Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and that it was dark. At the time, he was in a lifeboat and said he was co-ordinating the rescue from there.
Captain De Falco shouted back: “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now.”
But the captain told a court hearing yesterday he could not get on board the vessel because it was lying on its side. He argued that after hitting rocks he had executed a difficult manoeuvre that had saved many people’s lives.
An account of the evacuation by the ship’s guest services manager Katia Keyvanian, taken from her Facebook page, appears to support the captain.
She wrote: “It is not true that the captain was first to leave the ship. I was on the last boat and he remained attached to the railing of deck 3, while the ship was sinking. Shame on you incompetent journalists who wrote that he was the first to leave.
“I was on the lifeboat that was sailing away and about to be crushed by the hoist of the sinking ship, which was about to break through our roof. We pulled a lot of guests into the lifeboat who had ended up in the sea, and as we undressed a girl in wet clothes to cover her with a blanket, a guest filmed us with his phone. Shame on you.”
The ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped open when it hit rocks just hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia for a week-long Mediterranean cruise.
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