THE wife of the captain of the Costa Concordia has issued a robust defence of her beleaguered husband, decrying those who have judged his actions from the safety of "land".
abiola Russo, whose husband Francesco Schettino who faces charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship over the crash that led to the loss of at least 16 lives, said his portrayal as 'Captain Coward' was grossly unfair.
"Those at sea navigate, while those on land judge," she told Oggi, an Italian weekly magazine.
She also said that she and her husband spent a good deal of time praying for the victims of the disaster, which happened when the Concordia cruise liner hit rocks off the island of Giglio earlier this month and capsized.
"I pray, also for the victims because we know very well what pain is. Francesco prays too - our faith is one of the things we have in common," she said, insisting that her husband was a brilliant navigator and regarded by his crew as "a maestro".
It came as Mr Schettino was accused of trying to concoct a story to cover up his culpability for the crash on January 13.
The captain allegedly tried to persuade an officer from Costa Cruises, which owns the luxury liner, to say that the fatal crash was caused by a power failure.
Transcripts released by the Italian coast guard have shown that the power failure came after the collision, when water poured into a gash in the ship's hill and into the engine rooms, causing a power black-out.
But Roberto Ferrarini, who was on duty in the command centre of the Genoa-based company that night, accused the captain of trying to fabricate a very different version of events - that the black-out came first, causing a loss of power that led to the collision.
Mr Ferrarini, Costa Cruise's crisis manager, told an Italian Senate committee that Capt Schettino had asked him to "agree with me the position to take with the authorities, to whom he wanted to say that the ship first had a sudden blackout, after which it hit the reef."
Mr Ferrarini said he had immediately rejected the request, telling the captain to come clean as to how the accident happened.
He said that on the night of the disaster, he exchanged 17 calls with the bridge of the stricken ship, which had passed perilously close to Giglio in order to perform a 'salute' of the island with its 17 decks lit up and its sirens sounding.
The first communication was at 9.57pm - 15 minutes after the vessel smashed into a large group of rocks known as Le Scole.
The captain allegedly told Mr Ferrarini that although the ship had hit the outcrop, only one of its water-tight compartments was flooded and it was still fully buoyant.
There were several more calls in the next half an hour, during which Capt Schettino told his colleague that while the ship had started to list, it was not in serious trouble. His tone and manner was "clear and calm", Mr Ferrarini.
By 10.35pm, however, the veteran commander's account of the accident changed radically - he said he intended to give the order to abandon ship.
Mr Ferrarini said he was shocked and surprised by the communication and accused the skipper of hugely under-playing the crisis.
The captain, who many Italians accuse of embarrassing and shaming the country with his conduct, is under house arrest at his home in Meta di Sorrento near Naples.
Lawyers in the US, as well as Codacons, an Italian consumer group, intend to present a class action law suit against Miami-based parent company Carnival Corp on behalf of more than 150 passengers and crew, arguing for compensation of around GBP 100,000 per person.
Another class action is being prepared in Italy by Giulia Bongiorno, a high profile lawyer who represented Raffaele Sollecito, the Italian boyfriend of Amanda Knox, when they were accused of murdering British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Umbria, in 2007.
French prosecutors will also bring legal action against the owners of the Costa Concordia over the sinking of the cruise ship.
Four French citizens are confirmed as having lost their lives in the disaster, with another two still missing.
In a statement, the French justice ministry said that 462 French passengers had been on board the giant ship when it hit the rocks off Giglio.
"As several passengers have made legal complaints in various parts of (French) national territory, the Chancellery has decided to group these complaints together with the Paris prosecutor's office in the interests of the proper administration of justice," the statement said.
There were around 4,200 passengers and crew on board the ship so compensation claims could run into millions of pounds.
While the death toll is 16, another 16 people are still missing and rescue officials say there is almost zero chance of finding anyone alive inside the crippled ship. Divers from the Italian coast guard, navy and fire service continued the grim task of exploring the ship for bodies yesterday.
"We have gradually to accept the idea that in those conditions there is no more hope of survival," said Italy's civil protection agency head, Franco Gabrielli, who is in charge of the massive search operation.