Francesco Schettino, the Costa Concordia’s captain did abandon ship “half an hour” before hundreds of his passengers, it emerged this morning via a transcript of a conversation between him and the local coastguard.
Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, who will be questioned today by investigating magistrate Valeria Montesarchio, lied to the Captain of the Port of Livorno’s Coastguard when asked how many people were on board the sinking liner, Italian media reported today.
Francesco Schettino initially replied “40”, when there were actually hundreds still at risk, and when further questioned admitted he was not even there.
The Costa Concordia captain then ignored an order to go back onto the sinking ship – with some reports suggesting he volunteered to return, but only to pick up the black box.
Il Fatto Quotidiano published the transcripts of the conversation which purportedly took place on Friday night.
The first call to the boat took place at 9:49 p.m., where the coastguard asked what the situation was. The boat had run aground some 30 minutes before.
They did not speak again until 0:42 a.m., just 40 minutes after the evacuation started, when Francesco Schettino was asked how many people were on board.
He replied “40”. The coastguard, surprised, asked how there were so few people left on board, and francesco Schettino replied: “I’m not on board because we have abandoned the ship.”
The coastguard asked him to return to the ship to co-ordinate the evacuation.
At 1:46 a.m., Francesco Schettino received another call. The speaker said: “You will return to the boat immediately. You have to tell me how many passengers are left.”
Confusingly, Francesco Schettino replied: “I’m on board, but I’m here.” The coastguard, who Italian media says understood he had no intention of returning, issued an ultimatum:
“Captain, this is an order. I am in charge now. There are dead bodies.”
The publication of the transcript comes as Francesco Schettino was labeled the “most hated man in Italy”.
And it precedes the revelation, from a survivor, that men pushed past children who were screaming “I don’t want to die” as the young and elderly were “abandoned by the crew”.
Captain Francesco Schettino, who lives with wife Fabiola and their 15-year-old daughter at a $275,000 apartment in the small seaside town of Meta di Sorrento near Naples, is at the centre of a Facebook hate campaign after being squarely blamed for the cruise liner running aground.
Thousands have taken to the web to vent their fury at the so-called “Captain Coward”, who it is now claimed “skimmed” past the Tuscan isle of Giglio not just to salute a retired officer but also to impress his head waiter’s family on shore.
Many scorned his decision not to remain with his stricken ship. The official death toll rose to seven this morning after another body was pulled from the tilting wreckage. Last night the number of those still unaccounted for rose to 29 – 25 passengers and four crew.
Francesco Schettino, who faces up to 12 years in jail for manslaughter, will appear in court today after his company chiefs accused him of an “unauthorised and unapproved” decision to sail so close to the eastern side of the island of Giglio.
Costa Concordia, the $600million liner, with 4,200 passengers and crew, was sailing just 300 yards from the island’s rocky coast when it should have been at least four miles out to sea. It came to grief on Friday night after sustaining a 160ft gash in the port-side hull.
After swiftly escaping from the listing liner, Francesco Schettino was arrested along with first officer Ciro Ambrosio.
Captain Francesco Schettino was spotted wrapped in a blanket on his way to the shore at around 11:30 p.m. – more than four hours before the evacuation of the vessel was completed – and breaking the maritime tradition of remaining with his ship.
One Italian report said Francesco Schettino hailed a taxi and said to the driver: “Get me as far away from here as possible.”
Tuscan prosecutor Franco Verusio, who is leading the investigation, said: “Captain Schettino was in command. He was the one who ordered that course to be taken, at least according to what we have discovered. There was someone in particular that wanted to be signaled from the ship.”
Francesco Schettino gave the order for the doomed sail-by of the island as a “salute of respect” for former Costa commander Mario Palombo, whose parents are from Giglio, it is alleged.
The stunt – as passengers were enjoying dinner at 9:30 p.m. on Friday – was apparently also a favour for the ship’s maître d’ Antonello Tievoli, who lives on the island.
Italian news reports said that that minutes before Costa Concordia crashed into an underwater reef just two hours into a seven-day Mediterranean cruise, Francesco Schettino told the head waiter: “Come and look, we are passing over your Giglio.”
After his rescue, Antonello Tievoli is understood to have joked: “I never thought I would get dropped off at home.”
His 82-year-old father Giuseppe said his son had phoned him before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship’s whistle as they passed by.
Giuseppe Tievoli said: “Antonello called and said that we should look out of the window at around 9:30 p.m. because he would be on the ship and it would pass right by Giglio. All the ships do it but they never come that close – I was at the window with my wife and, as he said, the ship went past.”
Antonello Tievoli’s sister Patrizia, a teacher on the island, made a Facebook post 30 minutes before the disaster saying: “Shortly, the Costa Concordia will pass really, really close, a big hello to my brother who will disembark at Savona and finally get to enjoy some holiday.”
Antonello Tievoli, 46, has already been questioned by investigators while Mario Palombo, who retired in 2006 because of ill health, is also expected to be interviewed.
Mario Palombo last night insisted the “nautical bow” was not meant for him as he was not on the island at the time.
“I have gone to the prosecutor’s office after I was dragged into all this. I’ve been made to feel responsible.”
The stunt of sailing past the island is said to have become something of a tradition for Costa Concordia. In August, it skirted Giglio sounding its whistle – prompting the mayor to send a congratulatory email to the captain for providing such a “spectacle to tourists”.
A state of emergency has been declared around the stricken vessel after an unidentified liquid began to leak from the ship. Protective barriers have been put in place around the Costa Concordia.
Speaking to Sky News, Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli said: “This is an ecological timebomb.
“I hope that the fuel can be taken off the ship soon and maybe the ship can be removed too because it is hampering navigation.”
Francesco Schettino has also been accused of dining with beautiful women as the liner crashed into rocks and of raiding the safe before jumping ship.
Monique Maurek, 41, from the Netherlands, said: “What scandalized me most was when I saw the captain spending much of the evening before we hit the rocks drinking in the bar with a beautiful woman on his arm.
“Most people didn’t even have any idea of what the evacuation warning sound would be. It was only because some of us had already been on a cruise that we recognized that seven blasts of the horn was a signal to abandon ship.”
Francesco Schettino told maritime investigators that charts showed he was in water deep enough to navigate and that he had struck an unidentified rocky outcrop of the island.
Once Francesco Schettino realized the extent of the damage he immediately tried to change route and head for the safety of Giglio harbour.
His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said Francesco Schettino was “overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims”.
But he said Francesco Schettino’s actions in anchoring the ship at one end to swing it closer to the shore after the collision, “saved the lives of thousands of people”.
“It could have been an enormous tragedy,” Bruno Leporatti added.
Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi told reporters the liner had passed all safety and technical tests in its 2011 evaluation.
Explaining that the ship was “ultra safe”, Luigi Foschi said the captain had made an unauthorized and unapproved deviation from the ship’s programmed course.
Luigi Foschi said: “This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a manoeuvre by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa.”
Costa Crociere CEO added that the company’s main concern was the safety and well-being of the passengers and crew, as well as to ensure fuel doesn’t leak out from the upended hull into the pristine waters off the island of Giglio.
Costa Crociere is a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines.
Carnival PLC, the owner of the capsized boat, saw its share price plummet by around a fifth.