Thursday 23 February 2017

Survivors’ stories: Passengers shock as captain under house arrest

Rosa Silverman, Jennifer Cockerell and Diana Pilkington

Published 18/01/2012 | 11:21

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

PASSENGERS rescued from the cruise liner that crashed into rocks off Italy spoke today of their shock as the ship's captain was placed under house arrest.

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Captain Francesco Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship while passengers were still stranded.

The death toll from Friday night's disaster rose to 11 yesterday as the bodies of four men and one woman were discovered by divers.

And the search of the ship was again suspended today as it has shifted in the sea.

The Costa Concordia is lodged on a rock face off the Tuscan coast but risks falling into the 230ft-deep water beyond it if it moves too much, police in the nearby city of Grosseto warned.

A spokeswoman said: "It seems they have stopped the operation because the boat has moved a little bit. If the boat falls off the rock, there's a dangerous possibility it could break."

It is the second time the search has had to be suspended after the position of the vessel shifted.

Meanwhile, survivors spoke of their shock as new details of the disaster emerged.

Retired police chief inspector Ed Gurd, 64, who was on the cruise with his wife Liz, 58, said he was "surprised" at hearing that the captain was ordered not to abandon the ship after it hit the rocks but had apparently already done so.

Mr Gurd, from Ringwood, Hampshire, said: "If what I have heard is true, then obviously he totally failed in his duty.

"I wouldn't like to apportion blame until the facts are out but as things are emerging now, it seems more likely that he was at fault.

"It is very concerning about the way he might have been recruited or monitored."

Mr Gurd said he had seen the captain earlier on in the cruise but not after it crashed.

He said: "We'd seen him about, but didn't speak to him. A lot of people were getting their photos taken with him. I certainly didn't."

He said he and his wife were separated after she went off in one life-raft but he did not get in one until an hour later.

During that time he saw many people with cuts and bruises and suffering from the effects of hypothermia, he said.

"Obviously things were getting more and more tense as the ship was listing more and more," he said.

He recalled fearing for his wife's safety while they were separated and the 15-minute wait to be reunited with her once they were on shore.

The number of those unaccounted for has fallen to 22 after one of the missing turned up in Germany and confirmed he was safe.

It is hoped there could be other similar cases but the prospect of finding anyone alive in the wreck was reduced as another day dawned.

The police spokeswoman said: "A German person has arrived at home. The cruise company, Costa Crociere, phoned him at his house and he said 'I'm alive, I know you've been looking for me'.

"It's a possibility that there are some others alive like this but we can't say for certain."

His comments about the ship's captain came after a recording was published of a conversation between Schettino and the port authorities in which the captain was ordered not to abandon his stricken ship after it hit rocks.

Schettino, 52, insisted everything was fine shortly before the ship keeled over with 4,200 on board, according to the timings of the audio tape.

By 12.42am, the captain claimed there were only about 40 people missing and said he was not on board.

In the recording of his conversation with Italian coastguard Captain Gregorio De Falco, the coastguard was heard shouting: "You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. 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.

Capt 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.

"You go aboard. It is an order. Don't make any more excuses. You have declared the abandoning of the ship, now I am in charge."

Schettino was finally heard agreeing to reboard but it was unclear whether he did so.

Italian authorities have published a list of the 28 names of people who were unaccounted for after the wreck Schettino has been blamed for causing. There are 24 passengers listed and four crew members, with the names of the dead among them.

In the coming hours, extraction of the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship could begin.

"The operation to bring out the fuel has started but not the fuel extraction itself," a police spokeswoman said. "I think they will start in a few hours. It will either be today or tomorrow."

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