Thu, Dec 04, 2014 - Page 7 News List

‘Concordia’ skipper admits showing off

‘CAPTAIN COWARD’:Francesco Schettino insisted it was normal practice to navigate close to the coast to impress passengers, and blamed the crew for the safety lapse

AFP, GROSSETO, Italy

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino reacts as he arrives at his trial in Grosseto, Italy, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino told a court on Tuesday that he was showing off when he steered the cruise ship onto rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.

However, he denied that the person he was most trying to impress was a blonde Moldovan dancer nearly 20 years his junior who was with him on the bridge at the time of the January 2012 disaster, which resulted in the death of 32 passengers and crew.

Testifying for the first time in his trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, Schettino presented himself as a captain who had been badly briefed by his crew about the disastrous route the 115,000-tonne vessel was fixed on when he returned to the bridge after dinner.

On the sidelines of the hearing, prosecutor Francesco Verusio said he was planning to request a 20-year prison term for the captain.

Schettino, 54, told the court that it was normal “commercial” practice to navigate close to the coast to impress passengers.

On this occasion, he also wanted to “salute” a retired colleague living on Giglio and the ship’s head waiter, who came from the island.

“I was trying to catch three pigeons with one bean,” Schettino, said, using an Italian expression that translates as “killing three birds with one stone.”

At the moment he resumed control of the boat, he believed it to be fixed on a safe route that would take it past Giglio on a line 0.8km offshore.

“If the crew had any doubt about that, they should have told me,” he said.

Asked why he had asked the coastguard “is there water at 0.3 miles [0.48km]?” Schettino replied: “I was just making conversation.”

The captain denied taking a reckless risk to impress Domnica Cemortan, with whom he had just dined.

An employee of Costa Concordia, the Moldovan dancer was on the ship as an unauthorized passenger. She has testified that she was having an affair with the married captain.

Wearing a gray suit and aviator-style sunglasses, the man dubbed “Captain Coward” had appeared pensive as he arrived at a theater in the Tuscan town of Grosseto, which is being used as a temporary courtroom.

However, he testified confidently in his first appearance in the trial which began in July last year.

Recordings played in court from the “black box” voice recorder on the ship’s bridge appeared to indicate that he had no idea of how much danger the ship was in.

Just minutes before disaster struck, the captain is heard ordering a change of direction before joking in English: “Otherwise we go on the rocks.”

In the final sentence of the recording, after the crash, Schettino is heard to say: “Madonna, what have I done?”

The Concordia, twice the size of the Titanic, was moving at a brisk 16 knots and had 4,229 people from 70 countries on board when it struck the rocks at 9:45pm.

Holed below its waterline on impact, the giant vessel ended up half-submerged on the seabed on its starboard side.

Schettino’s employers have accused him of making an “unapproved and unauthorized” deviation from the ship’s set route.

He is also accused of recklessly delaying the evacuation order until after it was clear the ship was going down — a charge the captain dismissed in court.

Schettino’s ignominious reputation is largely based on his conduct after the crash.

Only 29 minutes after he had given the order to passengers and crew to evacuate, and with lifeboats still dotting the surrounding waters, Schettino himself left the vessel with hundreds of those onboard still unaccounted for.

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