Friday 15 December 2017

Costa Concordia captain changed ship's speed for dinner with ex-dancer

Nick Squires

THE captain of the Costa Concordia slowed the ship down so that he could enjoy dinner with a Moldovan ex-dancer and then speeded up as he approached the island of Giglio in order to make up time, prosecutors alleged today.

By the time the luxury liner came close to Giglio it was travelling at 16 knots, despite being in shallow water and dangerously near to the island’s rocky shore.

Several passengers have said they witnessed Capt Francesco Schettino having dinner on the night of the disaster with Domnica Cemortan, a blonde Moldovan who had worked as a passenger rep on the ship and as a dancer on other cruise vessels.

The captain “slowed down the ship so that he could finish dinner in peace”, just prior to sailing close to Giglio in order to perform a ‘salute’ to an old colleague on the island, prosecutors alleged in a report.

He then ordered the ship’s speed to be increased to 16 knots “despite the proximity of obstacles, the presence of shallow water, the conditions under which the ship had to manoeuvre and the night-time darkness,” prosecutors charged.

As a result of the increased speed he was unable to maintain “an adequate distance” between the ship and the island.

In documents filed in the Tuscan town of Grosseto, where the investigation is based, prosecutors said the nautical charts that Capt Schettino relied on for navigation were on too large a scale and therefore unreliable.

In a television interview on the day after the disaster, he claimed that the rocks that the rammed into were not marked on his maps.

Prosecutors also said the large number of people on the bridge at the time of the Jan 13 collision, including the ship’s head waiter, a purser and Miss Cemortan, 25, "generated confusion and distraction for the captain".

The death toll from the disaster stands at 25, after eight bodies were found by divers inside the flooded hull on Wednesday. Seven people are still missing.

Capt Schettino was particularly “upset” over the discovery of the body of the youngest passenger missing in the tragedy, five-year-old Dayana Arlotti, his lawyer said.

“My client is always upset when bodies are found, but even more so for the little girl,” said Bruno Leporatti.

The body of the child’s father, William Arlotti, 36, was identified on Thursday by a tattoo of a Native American warrior on his arm.

Prosecutors allege that the captain’s negligence and misconduct were compounded by errors made by senior officials from Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the ship.

They have broadened their investigation to include three Costa Cruises employees, including Manfred Ursprunger, the vice-president, and Roberto Ferrarini, the head of the company's crisis management unit.

He was in regular contact with the skipper on the night of the disaster but prosecutors accuse him of being "culpably unaware of the real situation on board the ship" and of falling to verify the information provided by Capt Schettino.

The captain initially claimed that the ship was suffering from a power failure, and then allegedly downplayed the seriousness of the collision, even as water flooded into the ship’s engines rooms through a massive gash in the hull.

The emergency management unit limited itself to "bureaucratic aspects...and to the future prospects of repairing the ship," prosecutors allege.

The captain and his officers acted with “imprudence, negligence and malpractice” and waited too long to give the order to abandon ship.

Four of the ship’s officers are also now under investigation, along with Capt Schettino and the first officer, Ciro Ambrosio.

On Thursday, prosecutors lodged two new charges against the captain, accusing him of abandoning incapacitated passengers and failing to inform the coast guard in Livorno, on the mainland, of what was happening on the ship.

He was already charged with abandoning ship, causing a disaster and multiple counts of manslaughter and is under house arrest at his home near Sorrento, south of Naples.

Divers were expected on Friday to resume their search of the hull in the hope of locating the bodies of the remaining seven missing people.

Prosecutors and a judge will discuss the evidence in the case, including the information contained in the vessel’s “black-box” recorders, at a pre-trial hearing on March 3.

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