'Sail-bys' were company policy claims captain
THE captain of the Costa Concordia has claimed that his superiors actively encouraged 'sail-pasts' of the island of Giglio and other beauty spots.
Costa Cruises, which owns the luxury liner, has insisted that Captain Francesco Schettino's decision to take the vessel so close to the island was entirely unauthorised.
In evidence which emerged yesterday, Captain Schettino told investigators that he and other commanders had executed dozens of such 'salutes', sailing close to islands such as Capri, in the Bay of Naples.
Such stunts, in which the cruise ships sounded their sirens and lit up all their decks, were good "publicity" for the company, the captain claimed to have been told by the firm.
Capt Schettino's assertions intensified the bitter war of words with his employers, with the two sides giving wildly differing accounts of events leading to the ship's collision off Giglio on the night of January 13.
In 135 pages of testimony, Capt Schettino (52), told investigating judges in Grosseto, Tuscany: "Costa was aware of the frequent practice of cruise ships performing sail-pasts."
Costa Cruises had in fact "insisted" on the stunt because it was "good publicity".
A spokesman for Costa Cruises said the company would not comment on Captain Schettino's claims while judicial proceedings were active.
Meanwhile, efforts to establish the exact number of people still missing from the Costa Concordia could be complicated by the possibility of unregistered passengers who may have been on board the vessel, the head of the search operation has admitted.
Around 20 people are still missing, including French passengers, an elderly American couple, an Italian father and his five-year-old daughter and Indian and Peruvian crew members.
As the death toll from the disaster rose to 13 after divers recovered a woman's body from the stern of the luxury liner, which hit rocks off the island of Giglio, Franco Gabrielli, head of the Civil Protection Authority, said there could have been "clandestine" passengers on board.
Both Costa Cruises and its parent company, US-based Carnival, are members of the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry body which sets safety and security rules.
This means there should be "100pc screening" of passengers, crew and luggage. Checks are also required for all passengers on embarking and disembarking.
Mr Gabrielli was given overall command on Friday of the emergency services involved in the operation, including civilian salvage experts from the Netherlands, police, the Italian navy and the coast guard. He has asked experts to determine if it is possible to carry out the search and the fuel removal at the same time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)