Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Nick Squires
The captain of the Costa Concordia admitted to his superiors “I f—–” up in the moments after the huge cruise liner slammed into a rocky shoal.
The audio recording undermines his attempts to pin the blame for the disaster on a junior officer.
Evidence gathered from the black box data recorder of the Costa Concordia appears to contradict his insistence that he was not in charge of the ship when it smashed into the rocky outcrop off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
In his first media interview since the disaster, Francesco Schettino insisted on Tuesday that he was not in command of the cruise ship when it careered into the reef on Jan 13, tearing a huge gash in its hull and leading to the deaths of 32 people, including a five year old girl.
He had dinner with friends, including an ex-dancer from Moldova, then went up onto the bridge, he said.
But he maintained that he did not immediately take charge, telling an Italian television channel that at the time of the collision the 1,000ft ship was being steered by another officer.
“I went up to the bridge. I ordered the navigation to be manual, and I didn’t have the command. The navigation was being directed by another officer,” Mr Schettino said.
But data recovered from the black box by forensic investigators showed that the captain disabled the automatic pilot and took control of the ship at 9.39pm that night – six minutes before the collision at 9.45pm.
He allegedly veered off the ship’s previously agreed route, steering the Concordia perilously close to Giglio so that he could perform a “salute” or sail-past for the benefit of a former colleague, a retired sea captain who lived on the island.
Audio recordings from the black box, leaked to Corriere della Sera on Wednesday, revealed the panic and drama on the bridge as officers realised that the giant ship was ramming into the rocky reef, a few yards off Giglio’s coast.
“Our a— is dragging along the seabed!” an unidentified officer yelled. He then swore and gave the order for watertight doors in the stern to be immediately closed.
A few moments later Mr Schettino asked: “What did we hit?” to which an unidentified officer replied: “The reef.”
Another officer said: “It was the salute that he wanted,” an apparent reference to the sail-past that the captain had agreed to perform.
At 9.56pm Mr Schettino telephoned Roberto Ferrarini, an officer who was on duty in the emergency unit of Costa Cruises, the Genoa-based company that owns the Concordia.
“Roberto, I f—– up!” he said, according to the transcript. “Look, I’m dying here, don’t tell me anything.”
He tried to shift the blame onto the retired sea captain, Mario Palombo, saying that it was he who had encouraged him to sail so close to the island.
“It was Palombo who said to me ‘pass close by, pass close by’. I did pass close by and I hit shallow water with the stern. I did it to keep him happy. I’m really devastated.”
The ship began to list as it took on massive amounts of water but the captain still delayed giving the order to evacuate its 4,200 passengers and crew.
He finally gave the order to abandon ship at 10.51pm, by which time it was redundant – his officers had overridden him and already begun the evacuation.
The black box data, recovered by a special unit of the Carabinieri, will be presented to a judge at a hearing in Grosseto on the Italian mainland on July 21.
The judge will decide whether Mr Schettino should be sent to trial.
Mr Schettino is under investigation for multiple counts of manslaughter, abandoning the ship before it had been fully evacuated and failing to communicate properly with the maritime authorities.
In his first full interview since the disaster, Mr Schettino apologised for his actions and said he was very sorry for those people who died.
But he said it was not only he who should bear responsibility. “This was a banal accident in which there was a breakdown in the interaction between human beings and it created misunderstandings and it’s for this that there’s so much rage,” he told Canale 5 television. “It was as though there was a blackout in everyone’s heads and in the instruments.”
The Italian press reported that he was paid up to 57,000 euros for the interview, but the producers of the programme denied that any money changed hands.
American and Italian salvage experts are in the process of trying to refloat the Concordia, after which it will be towed to a port and broken up for scrap.
The salvagers have begun an operation to remove a giant piece of rock that broke off from the reef and is lodged in the ship’s hull.
It will be cut into three pieces, one of which is likely to be made into a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives.