Captain said not to have been fit to pilot ship


ON THE night one week ago that the luxury cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, ran aground off the Tuscan coast, there was a jovial, “party” atmosphere on the bridge, according to Rome daily La Repubblica.

Survivors from the shipwreck have claimed that when the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, stood up from his table in the ship’s exclusive Club Concordia restaurant, approximately half an hour before the ship ran on to the rocks, he was in a particularly jolly mood.

La Repubblicasuggests that Capt Schettino (52) was not in a fit state to drive a moped let alone pilot a 114,000-tonne cruiser, asserting he would almost certainly have failed a breathalyser test.

Those allegations have been angrily rejected by his defence lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, who told reporters yesterday: “It is complete nonsense to suggest that Capt Schettino had had too much to drink at dinner that night.”

Survivors have, however, also told reporters that they noticed Capt Schettino dining that night in the company of a woman, believed to be Domnica Cemortan (25) from Moldova, a hostess on the Concordia.

Various media sources carried pictures yesterday of Ms Cemortan on the ship, seen first with other crew members and then, much less clearly, allegedly at the captain’s table.

While the Concordiarescue operation may be coming to the end of its natural cycle, there is every indication that bitter legal battles concerning the responsibility and liability for the disaster are just beginning.

With long-announced bad weather on the way and with sophisticated instrumentation registering that the grounded ship is actually moving at a rate of 7mm an hour, the ongoing search for survivors was yet again suspended yesterday afternoon.

Even though the rescue operation is now using an underwater robot, which has so far collected data and images relating to 10,000sq m of the ship, no more bodies were discovered yesterday.

Thus the death toll remains at 11, with at least 21 people still missing. At this point, too, it is stretching credibility to believe that there is still anyone alive on the ship.

Much attention yesterday focused on the burgeoning difference of opinion between Capt Schettino and the Costa Cruise company, the ship’s operators, who on Thursday suspended the captain and announced they would not cover his legal fees in any future litigation.

Having originally defended him, the company has now radically changed position.

For his part, Capt Schettino has let it be known through his lawyer that in the moments immediately after the collision he was in regular contact with the company, implying that the company was in agreement with his ham-fisted attempts to mislead the Coast Guard service as to the seriousness of the incident.

Capt Schettino remains under house arrest, with his defence asking for him to be released and with public prosecutors in the town of Grosetto wanting him returned to prison, under preventive detention.