The wife of the captain of the Costa Concordia said yesterday her husband "was not a monster" but admitted he had once been fined for taking a motorboat too close to the coast.
Fabiola Russo (below) defended Captain Francesco Schettino as the death toll from the disaster off the Tuscan island of Giglio rose to 16. At least 17 passengers and crew are still missing.
Ms Russo (48) said her husband (52) had been unfairly made a scapegoat for the debacle, which forced the chaotic nighttime evacuation of the ship's 4,200 passengers and crew.
The commander is under house arrest at the home he shares with his wife and 17-year-old daughter in Meta di Sorrento near Naples.
"My husband is at the centre of an unprecedented global media storm," Ms Rossi told 'Oggi', an Italian weekly magazine. "I cannot think of any other naval or air tragedy in which the responsible party was treated with such violence. This is a manhunt, people are looking for a scapegoat, a monster. It's shameful."
However, she admitted that Captain Schettino had once been fined for steering too close to the coast in the past.
"Our shared passion is canoeing -- to paddle together you have to be in symphony, which is what Francesco and I are," she said. "But we got fined once, because we took a little motorboat too close to the coast." She said her husband had been unfairly branded a coward after it emerged that he escaped in a lifeboat during the drama, leaving hundreds of passengers and crew stranded.
Ms Russo described her husband as "determined, firm and lucid". "He is able to analyse situations, to understand and manage them," she said. She added that he was regarded as "a maestro" by his crew.
Beniamino Deidda, the chief prosecutor overseeing the investigation, said that failings in safety procedures meant that Costa Cruises, the liner's owner, should also be investigated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)