Francesco Schettino, the captain of Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized on Friday, killing at least 11 people, has admitted making a navigation mistake, Italian media say.
Francesco Schettino, 52, told investigators he had “ordered the turn too late” as the luxury ship sailed close to an island, according to a leaked interrogation transcript.
The Costa Concordia ran aground with about 4,200 people on board.
More than 20 people are still missing but the search for survivors has been halted.
According to the leaked transcript quoted by Italian media, Captain Francesco Schettino said the route of the Costa Concordia on the first day of its Mediterranean cruise had been decided as it left the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome, on Friday.
Francesco Schettino reportedly told the investigating judge in the city of Grosseto that he had decided to sail close to Giglio to salute a former captain who had a home on the Tuscan island.
“I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this manoeuvre three or four times,” Francesco Schettino reportedly said.
“But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was too shallow. I don’t know why it happened.”
The ship’s owners, Costa Crociere, said earlier this week that the change of route had not been authorized.
On Tuesday, Captain Francesco Schettino’s lawyer said his client had told the judge that lives had been saved thanks to the manoeuvre he made after the ship hit rocks.
Francesco Schettino is under house arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter. Prosecutors have also accused him of fleeing the ship before evacuation was complete.
A recording of a call between him and a port official after the crash appears to support this, though Captain Francesco Schettino denies the claims.
In the recording, released by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Livorno Port Authority chief Gregorio De Falco can be heard repeatedly telling the captain to get back on board to help passengers.
“Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you have trouble for sure. Go aboard,” says Gregorio De Falco.
Francesco Schettino appears to refuse, replying first that there are rescuers already on board, and then that it is dark and difficult to see.
Coastguards believe he never went back to the ship. He was arrested on the island shortly afterwards.
During the hearing, Francesco Schettino reportedly said he could not get on board the vessel because it was lying on its side.
Italian media also quote Francesco Schettino as telling the judge he had left the ship accidentally after tripping and falling into a rescue craft.
If the reports of Francesco Schettino’s answers under questioning are correct, then this amounts to an admission of the most reckless incompetence.
Meanwhile, the first dead victim to be identified was a 38-year-old Hungarian violinist, Sandor Feher.
His body was found in the wreck and identified by his mother, Hungary’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
The search for survivors has been suspended, with officials saying there is a risk of the Costa Concordia sinking completely in rough seas.
Officials are hoping to begin salvage work soon, including pumping oil off the wreck. There are fears the vessel might slip into deeper water off the Tuscan coast.
A specialist team from a Dutch salvage company is preparing to pump more than 2,300 tons of fuel from the ship’s 17 tanks.
Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said it should take about 10 days to pump all the fuel out of the ship. He said if the fuel could not be contained the local environment was at risk.
“If we consider 2,400 tons of fuel, the damage could be terrible,” Corrado Clini said.
Corrado Clini said the government would declare a state of emergency later this week to release state funds to deal with any environmental problems
Meanwhile, satellite tracking information published by shipping journal Lloyd’s List Intelligence shows the Costa Concordia had sailed even closer to the island on a cruise last August.
Lloyd’s List said that the vessel passed within 230m of the island on 14 August 2011 to mark La Notte di San Lorenzo – the night of the shooting stars festival on the island.
The route deviation on that occasion had apparently been authorized by Costa Crociere.
Lloyd’s List describes that occasion as a “near miss” and says the ship’s route would have been less than 200m away from the point of collision on Friday’s voyage.
But Richard Meade, editor of Lloyd’s List, said: “The company’s account of what happened, of the rogue master [Capt Francesco Schettino] taking a bad decision, isn’t quite as black and white as they presented originally.
“This ship took a very similar route only a few months previously and the master would have known that.”