Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Costa Concordia cruise tragedy: I fell into life raft and got stuck, claims captain

Captain Francesco Schettino has been placed on house arrest
A rescue diver swims next to the Costa Concordia cruise liner, two days after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan coast faced accusations from authorities and passengers that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated as rescuers found another body on the overturned vessel. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
GIGLIO PORTO, ITALY - JANUARY 14: Crowds gather on the island of Giglio, where passengers aboard the cruise ship Costa Concordia have been staying after the vessel ran aground, on January 14, 2012 in Giglio Porto, Italy. More than four thousand people were on board when the ship hit a sandbank. At least 3 people have been confirmed dead and another 50 are unaccounted for. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

The captain of the luxury liner shipwrecked off Italy on Friday has explained his early escape from the vessel by claiming he stumbled into a life raft and was unable to get out.

Francesco Schettino, who has become the subject of a hate campaign in Italy, also admitted to a judge that he made a mistake by steering too close to Giglio island. He told the carabinieri he "would never step foot on a ship again".

As further attempts to search the stricken vessel were called off yesterday, the preliminary investigations judge, Valeria Montesarchio, declared the 51-year-old captain guilty of "negligence and ineptitude" in justifying the seaman's house arrest at Sorrento, near Naples, according to released court documents.

She said Schettino had failed to advise the Italian coastguard quickly enough after he struck rocks along the coast and later abandoned the ship while hundreds were still thought to be on board.

Prosecutors accuse Schettino of multiple-manslaughter and of abandoning his ship before his passengers. The Grosseto magistrate, Francesco Verusio, said yesterday that he would press for incarceration rather than house arrest to prevent the suspect from fleeing.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy, including 38-year- old Hungarian violinist Sandor Feher, and up to 22 are still missing. Details of the missing, released yesterday by in the Interior Ministry, most of whom are presumed dead, shows the majority were in their 60s or 70s. One of the missing people is a six-year-old Italian girl.

Leaks from the court hearing, printed by leading newspapers, showed that Schettino had sought to explain his early escape by telling the court that he had inadvertently found himself blocked on a life-raft with two senior officers.

Another off-duty captain aboard the Concordia, Roberto Bosio, who was reported to have taken charge of the evacuation efforts, was yesterday hailed as a hero by the Italian press. On the coast, small but worrying movements by the ship saw officials halt efforts to search its flooded interior yesterday.

Dutch salvage firm Smit indicated that it was ready to begin removing the 2,300 tons of fuel aboard to prevent a disastrous leak.

However, coastguard officials told The Independent that salvage work that impeded their ability to continue their search for the missing passengers would be opposed.

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