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Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Nick Squires
The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which ran aground off an Italian island with the loss of 32 lives six months ago, claimed on Thursday that the disaster would have been much worse had a “divine hand” not guided him.
Capt Francesco Schettino’s extraordinary claim came as Italian judges released him from house arrest but said he must remain in his hometown of Meta di Sorrento, south of Naples, as he waits to go on trial on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship.
He has been accused of gross negligence by sailing the 1,000ft luxury liner into a rocky reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio, ripping a massive gash in its hull.
But he claimed that rather than being responsible for the 32 dead, he had saved lives with his nautical skills and quick-thinking.
“If I had continued on that path the ship’s prow would have hit the rock. It would have been carnage,” he wrote in a letter to his lawyers.
“A divine hand surely touched my head. There are those who say the impact with the stern was caused because I was suffering from a hallucination.
What hallucination! It was rather my instinct, my skills, the ability to know the sea and suddenly change direction,” he said.
To his critics, the extraordinary justification may fall into the same category as his now infamous claim that he did not deliberately flee the sinking ship, but “tripped and fell” into a lifeboat.
The lifeboat took him to the safety of shore even as hundreds of panic-stricken passengers and crew were trying to flee the listing ship in the darkness, inching their way down rope ladders and clambering into wobbling lifeboats.
“I created the most optimal conditions to save everybody, independently of how events were unfolding,” he wrote.
It was “pure luck” that he had seen the white wash of breaking waves on the left side of the ship as it hit the rock, and had managed to immediately steer the vessel to the right “out of sheer instinct”.
He defended himself from accusations that he delayed giving the order to abandon the ship for far too long.
“A ship is in fact the best lifeboat that exists. The captain needs to take his time to evaluate the emergency without creating panic. It is he alone who is responsible – first before God, and then before men.” Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the case, said: “Schettino is playing his game, but it will be the judge to decide how things went that night.”
The next pretrial hearing in the case will take place in Grosseto, Tuscany, on July 21.
The operation to refloat the Costa Concordia and tow it away for scrap is expected to be completed by December.