The owners of the stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia yesterday blamed its runaway captain for needlessly causing deaths and injuries as a battle of words broke out between the two parties over the tragedy.
The president of Costa Cruises, Pier Luigi Foschi, accused Francesco Schettino of having "character problems" and failing to tell the company the truth of the scale of the accident for crucial minutes before an order to abandon ship.
Eleven people are confirmed dead, with 21 from half a dozen countries still missing. "Had it been abandoned before, we would not have lost human lives," Mr Foschi said.
Mr Schettino insisted through his lawyer yesterday that he kept his superiors fully informed, while Costa Cruises accused him of gross negligence and trying to cover up the accident off the island of Giglio last Friday evening.
The exchanges between Mr Schettino and port authorities will have been recorded in the ship's voyage data recorder, the nautical equivalent of a plane's black box, which is being scrutinised by Italian police and prosecutors.
But Mr Foschi contradicted Mr Schettino's account yesterday, saying the commander had only contacted the company at 10.05pm -- 23 minutes after the ship smashed into the rocky shoals.
He said the captain had told the company's command centre that the ship had simply suffered an electricity "blackout", rather than a catastrophic breach that led to it being grounded on a rocky shelf near Giglio's tiny port.
"I believe he was not honest with us," said Mr Foschi. Asked if he thought the captain was drunk or on drugs, he said: "He was not emotionally balanced. He was seeing his ship sinking in front of him."
He strenuously denied suggestions the firm had connived with the captain not to order the ship's evacuation in order to avoid a large compensation payment to passengers.
An Italian shipping lawyer said: "If the vessel had been abandoned the captain would have lost command of the ship."
Mr Schettino is likely to face charges of abandoning his ship, causing a shipwreck and multiple counts of manslaughter. Industry experts also say the accident could turn out to be the biggest maritime insurance claim yet.
The captain "cried like a baby" as he hugged its chaplain just hours after the boat hit rocks, the liner's priest told the French magazine 'Famille Chretienne'.
Fr Raffaele Malena said there was no doubt Mr Schettino's error caused the crash. (©Daily Telegraph, London)