NEW audio recording has emerged of the first contact between Italian port officials and the Costa Concordia cruise ship after it collided with a rocky shoal, tearing open a huge hole that forced the evacuation of its 4,200 passengers and crew.
In the audio tape, an unidentified officer on board the cruise ship insists that it is suffering only from an electricity “black-out” – despite the fact that the collision had happened 30 minutes before and the luxury liner was taking on water fast.
The officer was asked whether the ship was in difficulty and replied: “We have a black-out on board”.
The recording, broadcast for the first time today by Sky Italia, was made at 10.12pm on Friday – 30 minutes after the collision at 9.42pm.
Port officials in Livorno told him he should check out the situation and report back.
“Stand by, we’ll keep you informed,” the officer said.
The audio tapes will reinforce prosecutors’ accusations that Capt Francesco Schettino and his crew failed to alert authorities over the disaster and procrastinated over giving the order to abandon ship.
The $450 million ship was just two hours into a week-long Mediterranean cruise when it slammed into well-marked rocks off the island of Giglio, part of a marine park.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead, while more than 20 people, including a five-year-old Italian girl, are missing.
On Thursday, three more bodies were identified as French passengers Jeanne Gannard, 70, and Pierre Gregoire, 68, and a Spanish man, Guillermo Gual, 68, of Majorca.
Capt Schettino, 52, is under house arrest at his home in Meta di Sorrento near Naples and faces at least 12 years in jail if convicted of abandoning his ship and multiple counts of manslaughter.
The exchange between port officials in Livorno and the Concordia:
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: Good evening Costa Concordia. Do you have problems on board?
CONCORDIA: Yes, affirmative, we have a blackout on board. We are checking the situation.
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: Do you need assistance or for the moment are you only staying in the Giglio area?
CONCORDIA: Yes, affirmative, we are staying here in the area to verify the blackout.
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: What type of problem, only generators? Because the Carabinieri of Prato got a call from a relative of a crew member who said that during the dinner everything fell on his head.
CONCORDIA: No, negative, we have a blackout and we are verifying the conditions on board.
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: Yes, since the passengers said you made them put on life jackets, is this correct?
CONCORDIA: I repeat, we are verifying the conditions of the blackout.
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: How long has there been this blackout?
CONCORDIA: Approximately 20 minutes, 20 minutes.
LIVORNO PORT OFFICIAL: OK, we go back on (channel) 16. Keep us informed of the situation.
CONCORDIA: Affirmative, we'll stay on standby on (channel) 16. We'll keep you informed.
Italian investigators are probing the mystery of a young Moldovan woman who was reportedly on the bridge of the ship when it smashed into the rocks.
The 25-year-old blonde, identified as Domnica Cemortan, was invited onto the bridge as the cruise liner sailed perilously close to Giglio, in what was apparently a ‘salute’ to an old friend of the captain’s and a favour to the ship’s head waiter, whose family were from the island.
She was reportedly the guest of one of the ship’s officers and may be the woman that passengers saw drinking and chatting with Capt Francesco Schettino on Friday evening, a few hours before the Costa Concordia ran aground.
Italian judicial authorities, who are investigating the accident and the captain’s conduct, want to interview Ms Cemortan, who according to her Facebook page was born in Chisinau, Moldova, and lives in Bucharest, Romania.
They believe she may be able to shed light on what happened on the bridge when the giant cruise ship collided with a rocky outcrop, ripping a massive gash in its hull.
Adding to the mystery, she was reportedly not on the official list of passengers and crews.
As news broke that Italian prosecutors wanted to talk to her, she apparently went online and changed her city of residence from ‘Bucharest, Romania’, to ‘Zanzibar, Tanzania’.
In interviews with a Moldovan television station, Jurnal TV, and a Moldovan newspaper, she said she was having dinner on the ship “with friends” at 21.30 on the night of the disaster.
She was later invited up to the bridge – it was not clear whether to enjoy the spectacle of the ship performing a “sail past” of Giglio or later, to help broadcast announcements to passengers in Russian.
Evacuating the stricken liner was a terrifying experience, she said. “It was dark. I found an exit by finding fluorescent lines that guided me. I could hear all sorts of objects falling. People were screaming.”
She managed to get off the boat at 23.50 on Friday night. “The captain was still on deck,” she said.
Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the case, was not available for comment but a spokesman said he “could not confirm or deny” that Ms Cemortan was being sought for questioning.
Ms Cemortan was interviewed by a journalist from The Sunday Telegraph on Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in Rome’s Fiumicino airport, as the thousands of passengers who escaped from the ship started to fly home.
She offered a staunch defence of the captain’s actions, saying he had saved lives by steering the stricken ship towards Giglio’s tiny harbour and grounding it close to the shore.
“Look at how many people are alive because of him. It’s a tragedy that people are missing, but he saved over 3,000 people on that ship because of his actions,” said Ms Cemortan.
She claimed that Capt Schettino was still on the bridge at 11.50pm.
“I saw him there, before I managed to get off the ship. He did not abandon ship before everyone else. He would not have done that. He knows what his duty is.
“He is one of the best captains in the company. He is very skilful and experienced when it comes to manoeuvring the ship in enclosed spaces, like harbours.”
It is believed that Ms Cemortan has worked for Costa Cruises in the past, as a dancer and passenger rep, but went on the cruise last week as a holiday.
Calm seas enabled Coast Guard and fire service divers to return to the stricken ship on Wednesday, as the mother of a missing five year old girl begged rescuers to keep up the search for her daughter.
Susy Albertini also appealed to other passengers on the ship to come forward if they had any information about where the little girl was last seen, during the panic-stricken evacuation of the vessel by its 4,200 passengers and crew on Friday night and early Saturday morning.
“Please continue looking for my little girl, bring her home to me as soon as you can,” Mrs Albertini told Italian television in a heartfelt plea.
Her lawyer, Davide Veschi, added: “We ask anybody who was in that part of the ship and who managed to get out, if they remember having seen a little girl and her father slip.
“We would ask them to come forward and give precise indications to divers in order to aid them with more targeted searches.”
Dayana - the youngest person missing from the disaster - was with her father, William Arlotti, 36, and he too is missing.
Her parents are separated and so were not together on the cruise liner.
Mr Arlotti’s new partner, Michela Maroncelli, 36, who survived the evacuation, has reported seeing them both slip and fall into the sea. They have not been seen since.
The death toll so far is 11, with at least 20 people still missing.
Francesco Schettino, the Italian cruise liner captain accused of abandoning his stricken vessel with passengers still trapped on-board claimed he left the ship only because he “tripped” and fell into a lifeboat while trying to help with the evacuation.
Schettino, 52, told investigating magistrates that the Costa Concordia was listing so violently there was nothing he could do to get back on board once he had tumbled off and into the safety of a rescue craft.
He admitted however, that he made a “mistake” as he approached the island of Giglio to perform a “salute” for a friend, turning too late and ending up in shallow water where the liner struck a rocky outcrop and eventually capsized.
An off-duty captain who stepped in to help co-ordination the evacuation spoke out yesterday to condemn Mr Schettino’s actions, describing the disaster as “a heartache that I will carry with me forever”.
Colleagues meanwhile, accused the beleaguered Italian captain, who has vowed never to go to sea again, of treating the 1,000ft long vessel “like a Ferrari” and said he was an over-exuberant “daredevil”.
Mr Schettino, who was being kept under house arrest in Meta di Sorrento near Naples on Wednesday, was interrogated for three hours on Tuesday about the disaster which has claimed at least 11 lives, with 22 people still missing.
Pressed by magistrates on why he had apparently abandoned the stricken ship, he reportedly said: “I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60 to 70 degree angle, I tripped and I ended up in one of the boats. That’s how I found myself there.”
He said he got stuck in the lifeboat for an hour before it was lowered into the water off the coast of Giglio island.
A short time afterwards he was seen ashore, leaving an estimated 300 crew and passengers, including children and elderly and disabled people, to fend for themselves. Also with him in the lifeboat was Dimitri Christidis, the Greek second-in-command of the Concordia and Silvia Coronica, the third officer, according to Italian reports.
Mr Schettino told investigators he took the cruise liner to within 0.28 nautical miles of Giglio to perform a “salute” to a former Costa Cruises captain named Mario Palombo.
“… I made a mistake on the approach. I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this manoeuvre three or four times. But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was too shallow. I don’t know why it happened, I was a victim of my instincts.”
The judge, Valeria Montesarchio, said the Mr Schettino had not made “any serious attempt” to return to the vessel “or even close to it” after evacuating.
The off-duty captain who was forced to step in and lead the evacuation broke his silence on Wednesday.
Roberto Bosio, 44, the captain of one of the Concordia’s sister ships, the Serena, said: “Only a disgraceful man would have left all those passengers on board. It was the most horrible experience of my life, a tragedy, a heartache that I will carry with me forever.” He added: “I just want to rest and forget. Don’t call me a hero. I just did my duty, the duty of a sea captain — actually the duty of a normal man.”
Martino Pellegrino, one of the officers on board the Costa Concordia, joined the growing condemnation of Mr Schettino. “If I had to make a comparison, we got the impression that he would drive a bus like a Ferrari,” he said.
Mario Palombo, a former Costa commander and colleague of the captain, said: “I’ve always had my reservations about Schettino. It’s true, he was my second in command, but he was too exuberant; a daredevil. More than once I had to put him in his place.”
As long as you didn't lose a loved one, the sinking of the Costa Concordia has been almost the perfect news story, providing a spectacle of gigantic folly while confirming our fondest prejudices: the Italian nutter who drove his liner like a Ferrari, phoned his mamma when it started to sink, then scarpered for safety, leaving passengers and crew scrambling around in the dark. How very Italian.