The moment Captain Francesco Schettino, commander of the stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship, refused to return to his vessel to help people evacuate was recorded in their radio exchange.
Mr Schettino is in jail, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. He denies all wrongdoing and was questioned by magistrates on Tuesday.
The audio recording, on Corriere della Sera’s website, reflected the chaos and confusion in the minutes after the Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew, hit a rock off the Tuscany coast on Friday night and keeled over. Eleven people were killed and 24 are still missing.
The recording is full of background noises such as radio static, beeps and background noise of people and confusion. Some of the exchanges went as follows:
Coast guard to captain (who has already left the ship): “There are people who are coming down the ladder on the bow. Go back in the opposite direction, get back on the ship, and tell me how many people there are and what they have on board.
“Tell me if there are children, women and what type of help they need. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear?
“Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board!”
(Noise can be heard in the background, apparently other Coast Guard officers are shouting to each other in the same room about “the ship, the ship”) Captain to Coast Guard: “Please ...”
Coast Guard: “There is no ‘please’ about it. Get back on board. Assure me you are going back on board!”
Captain: “I’m in a lifeboat, I am under here. I am not going anywhere. I am here.”
Coast Guard: “What are you doing, captain?”
Captain: “I am here to coordinate the rescue ...” (Coast Guard interrupts him)
Coast Guard: “What are you coordinating there! Get on board! Coordinate the rescue from on board! Are you refusing?”
Captain: “No, I am not refusing.”
Coast Guard: “Are you refusing to go aboard, captain? Tell me the reason why you are not going back on board.”
Captain: “ (inaudible) ... there is a another lifeboat ...”
Coast Guard (interrupting, yelling): “You get back on board! That is an order! There is nothing else for you to consider. You have sounded the ‘Abandon Ship’. Now I am giving the orders. Get back on board. Is that clear? Don’t you hear me?”
Captain: “I am going aboard.”
Coast Guard: “Go! Call me immediately when you are on board. My rescue people are in front of the bow.”
Captain: “Where is your rescue craft?”
Coast Guard: “My rescue craft is at the bow. Go! There are already bodies, Schettino. Go!”
Captain: “How many bodies are there?”
Coast Guard: “I don’t know! ... Christ, you should be the one telling me that!”
Captain: “Do you realise that it is dark and we can’t see anything?”
Coast Guard: “So, what do you want to do, to go home, Schettino?! It’s dark and you want to go home? Go to the bow of the ship where the ladder is and tell me what needs to be done, how many people there are, and what they need! Now!”
Captain: “My second in command is here with me.”
Coast Guard: “Then both of you go! Both of you! What is the name of your second in command?”
Captain: “His name is Dmitri (static)”
Coast Guard: “What is the rest of his name? (static) You and your second in command get on board now! Is that clear?”
Captain: “Look, chief, I want to go aboard but the other lifeboat here has stopped and is drifting. I have called ...”
Coast Guard (interrupting): “You have been telling me this for an hour! Now, go aboard! Get on board, and tell me immediately how many people there are!”
Captain: “OK, chief.”
Coast Guard: “Go! Immediately!”
A Coast Guard official on Giglio, the island where the ship hit a rock, said he could not confirm the authenticity of the tape and said the Coast Guard did not give it to the newspaper. There was no comment available from the captain’s lawyer.
Crew members appeared to have become so frustrated with Mr Schettino’s inaction and delay as his ship ran aground on the rocky coast of Giglio island that they started hurrying terrified passengers towards the safety boats.
The captain only gave the order for the ship to be evacuated at around 10.50pm – 70 minutes after the vessel smashed into the rock.
But transcripts of communications between the ship and the Coast Guard in Livorno, on the mainland, suggest that junior officers and crew members had already pre-empted the order, acutely aware of the danger that the vessel was in as it began to list onto its side.
Just 10 minutes after the abandon ship order was given, a Coast Guard vessel saw lifeboats full of passengers heading towards the island.
Ten minutes would not have been enough time to fill and lower the boats, suggesting that officers on board the ship had started organising evacuation before the captain gave his order.