The captain of a doomed Italian cruise liner returned home to the Amalfi coast under house arrest yesterday, as fears grew that bad weather could hamper rescue efforts on the wreck.
Divers, mountain rescue teams and soldiers have so far recovered 11 bodies from the turbid waters of the half-submerged hulk and the surrounding sea.
Another 20 passengers and crewmen are unaccounted for, their relatives huddled in hotels in the area anxiously waiting for news of their loved ones.
Rescuers were again forced to suspend their search yesterday as the vessel shifted. Emergency workers fear that the ship could slip from the rocky shelf on which it is resting and plunge into the open sea to sink entirely.
“Instruments indicated the ship had moved, we are in the process of evaluating if it has found a new resting point to allow us to resume. For the moment we cannot even go near it,” emergency services spokesman Luca Cari said.
The Costa Concordia’s 52-year-old captain, Francesco Schettino — described by one Italian newspaper as “the most hated man in Italy” — faces years in prison on charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship.
He has defended himself, saying his maneuvre after the ship hit rocks and pitched onto its side saved lives. He said he left the ship to coordinate evacuation efforts from the shore.
However, in a dramatic port authority recording of a telephone exchange as the disaster unfolded late on Friday, Schettino repeatedly told a port official who was urging him to get back on board the vessel that he could not get access.
Schettino arrived at his home in Meta di Sorrento near Naples around 2am accompanied by police officers. He was released from prison on Tuesday after a judge ruled that he was not a flight risk.
Under lengthy questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday, Schettino defended his actions when disaster struck off Giglio Island along the Tuscan coast.
“The captain defended his role on the direction of the ship after the collision, which in the captain’s opinion saved hundreds if not thousands of lives,” his lawyer Bruno Leporatti said.
“The captain specified that he did not abandon ship,” Leporatti said.
The Corriere della Sera daily reported that Schettino told prosecutors that he was at the helm when disaster struck, but later fell into the sea and could not get back on board the tilting vessel.
Leporatti backed the claim, telling journalists: “The ship in that moment was tilted over by 90 degrees.”
He said the captain could not have returned on board without the help of a helicopter.
According to investigators, the flooded engine rooms would have made it impossible for Schettino to navigate the 114,500-tonne ship, which drifted closer to a tiny port on Giglio before capsizing.
In the Livorno port authority recording, an increasingly strident port official berates Schettino, ordering him back on board so he could account for how many people were still on the vessel.
Schettino, who was arrested along with his first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, on Saturday, has yet to be formally charged. Under Italian law, he could be charged up to a year after his detention.
The grilling of Schettino came as after the Italian navy used explosives to blow seven holes in the upturned hull of the Costa Concordia and another five bodies were discovered on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 11.