Thursday 8 December 2016

Cruise disaster: Lives lost due to Captain Coward’s ‘dithering’

Nick Squires, Victoria Ward and independent.ie reporters

Published 18/01/2012 | 10:10

Francesco Schettino is escorted to prison by police. Photo: Reuters
Francesco Schettino is escorted to prison by police. Photo: Reuters
Rescuers work on the cruise ship Costa Concordia as lies stricken off the shore of the island of Giglio. Photo: Getty Images
Costa Cruiseschairman and CEO Pierluigi Foschi gives a press conference. Photo: Getty Images

THE Captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia , could have saved more lives if he had decided to "abandon ship" immediately, rather than wait for over an hour.

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An initial investigation carried out by the Italian coast guard into last Friday night’s disaster made the finding as the confirmed death toll rose to 11.

There are still 23 people unaccounted for, but searches of the liner have been suspended due to safety risks.

Among those missing are Italian William Arlotti (34) and his daughter Dyana (5), who became separated from Mr Arlotti’s partner Michaela Maroncelli as they tried to get on the lifeboats.

Also missing feared dead are Barbara and Gerald Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota and Peruvian crew member Erika Soria.

Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia, has been placed under house arrest as an audio recording appeared to prove that he did abandon his stricken cruise ship with passengers still trapped on board.

Crew members have told police that he ‘dithered’ over an order to abandon ship which was not given until 75 minutes after the ship hit a rock. The order was given by a senior crew member in the end.

Mr Schettino had been held in jail in Grosseto, Tuscany, since Saturday but an investigating judge, Valeria Montesarchio, ruled that he should be allowed to remain under house arrest as he awaits trial on accusations of multiple manslaughter and abandoning his ship.

He lives with his wife and daughter in Sorrento, near Naples.

Capt Schettino, 52, attempted to defend his actions at the court hearing yesterday, insisting he did not flee the Concordia and claiming his actions saved “thousands of lives”.

However, the transcript of an extraordinary exchange between Capt Schettino and a port official on the night of the disaster appeared to show that he did leave the ship while passengers were still trapped on board. When asked how many people were on the Costa Concordia, he initially replied “40”, when there were hundreds still at risk. When questioned further, he admitted he was not even on the ship.

Capt Schettino is accused of steering the cruise ship too close to the island of Giglio so that his head waiter could see his family home.

The death toll from the disaster rose to 11, as divers found the bodies of four men and a woman, all believed to be passengers in their fifties and sixties. The bodies were found towards the stern of the ship after navy specialists used explosive charges to rip open the hull.

The release of the transcripts came as Capt Schettino’s wife spoke for the first time.

Fabiola Russo said she and her family strongly rejected “any attempt to discredit him, and ask everyone to understand the tragedy and human drama he is going through.”

All the accusations against the 52-year-old commander, including gross negligence and abandoning his ship, were “still to be verified.”

The captain’s wife praised his “absolute dedication to his job and his professionalism.”

By steering the crippled vessel towards the tiny harbour on the island of Giglio, where it ran aground, he had saved the lives of thousands of passengers, his wife said in a statement.

A senior officer on the ship emerged as the unsung hero of the drama as it was disclosed that he gave the order to abandon ship as Capt Schettino dithered.

According to statements from the crew it was Second Officer Roberto Bosio who decided that they could wait no longer and gave the order to lower the lifeboats while Capt Schettino ignored reports of flooding in the engine and generator rooms.

A junior officer said in a statement: “For the first 40 minutes after the impact the ship stayed upright. We could easily have lowered the lifeboats from both sides. We would have reached dry land without even getting our feet wet.”

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