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Cruise disaster: Costa Concordia captain under house arrest

Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia, has been placed under house arrest as an audio recording appeared to prove that he did abandon his stricken cruise ship with passengers still trapped on board.

Francesco Schettino had been held in jail in Grosseto, Tuscany, since Saturday but an investigating judge, Valeria Montesarchio, ruled that he should be allowed to remain under house arrest as he awaits trial on accusations of multiple manslaughter and abandoning his ship.

He lives with his wife and daughter in Sorrento, near Naples.

Capt Schettino, 52, attempted to defend his actions at the court hearing yesterday, insisting he did not flee the Concordia and claiming his actions saved “thousands of lives”.

However, the transcript of an extraordinary exchange between Capt Schettino and a port official on the night of the disaster appeared to show that he did leave the ship while passengers were still trapped on board. When asked how many people were on the Costa Concordia, he initially replied “40”, when there were hundreds still at risk. When questioned further, he admitted he was not even on the ship.

Capt Schettino is accused of steering the cruise ship too close to the island of Giglio so that his head waiter could see his family home.

The death toll from the disaster rose to 11, as divers found the bodies of four men and a woman, all believed to be passengers in their fifties and sixties. The bodies were found towards the stern of the ship after navy specialists used explosive charges to rip open the hull.

The release of the transcripts came as Capt Schettino’s wife spoke for the first time.

Fabiola Russo said she and her family strongly rejected “any attempt to discredit him, and ask everyone to understand the tragedy and human drama he is going through.”

All the accusations against the 52-year-old commander, including gross negligence and abandoning his ship, were “still to be verified.”

The captain’s wife praised his “absolute dedication to his job and his professionalism.”

By steering the crippled vessel towards the tiny harbour on the island of Giglio, where it ran aground, he had saved the lives of thousands of passengers, his wife said in a statement.

A senior officer on the ship emerged as the unsung hero of the drama as it was disclosed that he gave the order to abandon ship as Capt Schettino dithered.

According to statements from the crew it was Second Officer Roberto Bosio who decided that they could wait no longer and gave the order to lower the lifeboats while Capt Schettino ignored reports of flooding in the engine and generator rooms.

A junior officer said in a statement: “For the first 40 minutes after the impact the ship stayed upright. We could easily have lowered the lifeboats from both sides. We would have reached dry land without even getting our feet wet.”