Captain said grounding 'a blackout'
A new recording has emerged of the captain of the stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia insisting that the vessel only had a blackout a full 30 minutes after it had rammed into a reef.
Francesco Schettino, who left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, is under house arrest, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.
The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorised diversion. The ship then keeled over on its side. Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing.
The recording between Schettino and port officials began at 10.12pm on Friday, a good 30 minutes after the ship violently hit a reef and panicked passengers had fled the dining room to get their lifejackets.
Recordings of Schettino's conversations with coast guard officials have shown he resisted repeated orders to return on board to oversee the evacuation. In the newly released recording, the first communication between the ship and Livorno port authorities, Schettino is heard assuring the officer he is checking the reasons for the blackout but does not say that the ship had hit a reef.
The port officer tells Schettino his agency had heard from a relative of one of the ship's sailors that "during dinner everything fell on their heads". Passengers reported plates and glasses slamming down onto diners. "We are verifying the conditions on board," Schettino replies. Asked if passengers had been told to put on life jackets, he says: "Correct."
Divers have restarted the search for those still missing, but a forecast of rough seas added uncertainty to the operation and to plans to begin pumping fuel from the stranded vessel.
Meanwhile, a young Moldovan woman who says she was with the captain at the time the ship ran aground has emerged as a potential new witness in the investigation into the captain's actions that night. She has defended Schettino, saying "he did a great thing, he saved over 3,000 lives" and stayed on deck until 11:50 pm.
Dominica Cermotan, a 25-year-old Moldovan hostess who said she was working for Costa on the Concordia, said on her Facebook page that she was not on duty the night of the grounding but was with Schettino, other officers and the cruise director on the bridge.
She said she was called to help with translations of instructions for how the small number of Russian passengers should evacuate. She told Moldova's Jurnal TV: "We were looking for them, searching for them (the Russians). We heard them all crying, shouting in all languages."