Costa captain defends failure to stay on stricken ship

Capt Schettino tells court he fell off liner and would have returned by helicopter if possible

Capt Francesco Schettino, seen here in an undated file photo, said he did all he could for his “blessed passengers”. Photograph: Reuters

Capt Francesco Schettino, seen here in an undated file photo, said he did all he could for his “blessed passengers”. Photograph: Reuters

 

Francesco Schettino, the captain of the luxury liner Costa Concordia which sank with the loss of 32 lives off the coast of the island of Giglio in January 2012, has again defended his failure to remain on board the sinking vessel until all 4,229 passengers and crew had abandoned ship.

In the days immediately after the sinking, the transcript of a conversation between Capt Schettino and a furious coastguard official who was ordering him to get out of a lifeboat and back onto the ship made international headlines. At one point the exasperated official, Commandant Gregorio De Falco barked at Capt Schettino: “Get back on board for the love of God…That is an order and don’t make any more excuses”.

That conversation took place at 01.46am, four hours after the ship had smashed into the Giglio rockface but still almost two hours before the last of the passengers were able to get off the ship.

Capt Schettino later claimed that he had “fallen into” the lifeboat on the badly listing ship and that he had no way of getting back on board the ship. This week, a court hearing in Grosseto, Tuscany, where Capt. Schettino is on trial for multiple manslaughter, heard the audio of evidence given by him to investigating magistrates just four days after the tragedy. In this evidence, never previously made public, Schettino repeats those claims, saying:

“Maybe the commandant in the operations room misunderstood me. Maybe he thought that I didn’t want to go back on board. I told him that I couldn’t, there was no way... If he had said to me, look we will helicopter you back on board I would not have refused. But as it was, I said to him, what do you want me to do, swim out to the ship?”

In that first interrogation, Capt Schettino also defended himself by claiming that his actions had saved many lives, a claim he has repeated in later interviews, saying:

“I made a mistake, it is true. But I did all I could for my blessed passengers. Perhaps I should have stayed on Bridge Nine, without control over anything, but I knew that the ship was going to keel over and sink to the bottom. What was I going to do, remain there and be the hero? Without my help, I don’t know how many people would have fallen off the ship. I believe that I was positive in achieving, if not a position, at least a result...”

This latest evidence comes in a week when a lawyer for the ship’s owners, Costa Crociere, told the court that when she spoke to Capt. Schettino on the day after the shipwreck, he made no reference to those who had lost their lives but, rather, boasted how his skill had saved people.

Also this week, Giglio policeman Carlo Galli recounted how, at the height of the immediate rescue operation, he had found Capt. Schettino sitting on rocks near to where the ship was sinking, just off shore. The policeman offered to find Capt. Schettino a dinghy that would take him back out to the ship but Schettino declined the offer. Galli also said that Capt Schettino was “dry, unlike the rest of the passengers with him”.

One of the ship’s officers, Andrea Bongiovanni, also claimed that he and other ship’s officers had pleaded with Capt Schettino to sound the “abandon ship” alarm long before he eventually did. The delay in sounding the alarm is one of many contentious aspects of this tragedy.