Friday 20 October 2017

Turn left, turn right -- chaos after the Concordia hit rocks

The captain of the Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino (L) is surrounded by Italian Carabinieri policemen as he leaves at the end of the preliminary hearings in Grosseto
The captain of the Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino (L) is surrounded by Italian Carabinieri policemen as he leaves at the end of the preliminary hearings in Grosseto

Nick Squires Grosseto, Italy

The captain of the Costa Concordia told his crew to turn the crippled ship one way while his second-in-command told them to steer it in the opposite direction, an audio recording has revealed.

In the chaotic moments immediately after the ship hit rocks off the island of Giglio in January, Capt Francesco Schettino shouted "Hard to port!" while his first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, shouted: "Hard to starboard!"

The captain again said: "Hard to port!", with the ship's helmsman apparently confused as to which order to follow. The audio, taken from the ship's black-box data voice recorder, emerged at the start of a court hearing yesterday in Grosseto, Tuscany, where the investigation into the disaster is taking place.

Capt Schettino (51), wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, appeared at the hearing, which is expected to last up to a week.

The proceedings were closed to the press and public. He shook hands with one survivor and said he hoped "the truth" would emerge. He is expected to be charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. However, Capt Schettino denies the charges and is suing Costa Cruises for wrongful dismissal after he lost his job in July.

The black box recorded the captain saying: "Let's go and do a salute (to Giglio)" in his native Neapolitan dialect.

As the ship approached the shore, he told the Indonesian helmsman to swing the rudder hard to starboard -- "otherwise we go on the rocks".

After the huge ship hit the rocks, chaos ensued on the bridge. Capt Schettino frantically ordered the crew to close the watertight compartments deep in the bowels of the ship.

After initially giving the order "hard to port", moments later Capt Schettino changed his mind and called out: "Hard to starboard. Close the watertight doors in the engine room."

The chief officer of the engine room told him the level of the water was rising fast. The captain asked, again in Neapolitan dialect: "So are we really going down? I don't understand."

Despite a rapidly deteriorating situation, an officer announced to the 4,200 passengers and crew that "everything is under control" and that the vessel merely had a "technical problem".

The recording, which will be analysed during the pre-trial hearing, concluded with an officer telling passengers and crew: "Attention, attention, abandon the ship."

Thirty-two people died after the Concordia capsized off the coast of Giglio on the night of January 13. During the panic-stricken evacuation, more than 4,200 passengers and crew had to scramble for safety.

Passengers attending the hearing recounted their terror as the ship listed violently and water flooded into its engine rooms.

"I remember people fleeing in panic," said Luciano Castro (49), an Italian public relations executive, outside the hearing. "Then the long wait without any information, the extreme difficulty of getting off the boat and the feeling that we had been abandoned. We only escaped by chance, or perhaps by a miracle. Others were not so lucky."

'Peanuts'

John Eaves, an American lawyer representing more than 150 passengers from 10 countries, said the €11,000 that passengers had been offered in compensation by Costa Cruises was "peanuts".

He is calling instead for at least $200,000 (€155,000) for those who suffered trauma and broken limbs, and $2m to $5m (€1.6m-€3.9m) for passengers who have lost a relative.

Mr Eaves said he hoped the investigation would lead to sweeping improvements to safety drills, training and ship design in the cruise industry.

"The ship was top-heavy. It only sat half as deep in the water as the Titanic but it carried more than twice the number of passengers. The captain made a horrible mistake but we need to change safety standards."

Peter Ronai, a lawyer representing 10 survivors, said Capt Schettino was being made a "scapegoat" and that responsibility for the accident lay with the ship's owners, Costa Cruises, and its US parent company, Carnival Corporation.

Costa Cruises insisted that the crew was properly trained in safety drills and that its crisis management unit in Genoa responded promptly to the disaster. The firm distanced itself from Capt Schettino, saying he diverged from the ship's agreed route and withheld information about the extent of the emergency.

Carnival said that all lawsuits should be heard in Europe, because the ship was operated by an Italian company. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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