Captain Francesco Schettino went back on board the Costa Concordia yesterday for the first time since the ship capsized two years ago, insisting that the disaster was not his fault and that he had acted like "a gentleman".
Capt Schettino, who is on trial for manslaughter and abandoning ship, was mobbed by television crews and escorted by police officers as he boarded a small launch which took him from the main harbour of Giglio island out to the hulk of the 950ft cruise liner.
It was the first time he had set foot on the island since the night of January 13, 2012, when he came ashore after allegedly abandoning the ship before all its 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.
On the night of the disaster, he was told to "Get back on board, for f***'s sake" by a coast guard officer on the mainland who was incredulous when he learned that Capt Schettino was safe ashore while the evacuation was still ongoing.
The 53-year-old commander was allowed back on board the huge vessel in order to take part in an inspection by technical experts who are involved in his trial, which is taking place in the city of Grosseto in Tuscany.
The experts were examining the ship's emergency generators, which Capt Schettino insists failed to work properly in the minutes after the Concordia rammed into rocks off Giglio at 9.45pm that night.
His lawyers argue that the failure of the back-up generators made the accident far worse than it should have been, jamming the ship's elevators and impeding the launch of lifeboats.
But the chief prosecutor in the trial, Francesco Verusio, said the emergency generators were irrelevant to the outcome of the disaster.
"None of the 32 victims died as a result of the generators not functioning," he said.
Michelina Suriano, a lawyer for some of the victims, said: "Schettino should have got back on board the ship that night, not today."
During a panic-stricken night-time evacuation in which some passengers leapt into the icy cold sea in order to swim to shore, 32 people lost their lives, including a five-year-old girl.
Inhabitants of Giglio reacted with a mixture of curiosity and hostility to the return of the man dubbed by the Italian media "Captain Coward".
"Captain, you are a national disgrace," read one banner held by a small group of protesters at the island's harbour, a few hundred yards from the wreck. (© Daily Telegraph, London)