The Costa Concordia’s captain did abandon ship before hundreds of his passengers and refused to go back when ordered, it has emerged via a transcript of a conversation between him and the local coastguard.
Capt. Francesco Schettino is being taken into a Grosseto courthouse today to be questioned by investigating magistrate Valeria Montesarchio. He also lied to the Captain of the Port of Livorno’s Coastguard when asked how many people were on board the sinking liner, Italian media is reporting.
He initially replied ’40’, when there were actually hundreds still at risk, and when further questioned admitted he was not even there.
He 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.
The publication of the transcripts by Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper comes as it was revealed junior officers onboard led a ‘mutiny’ after the ship struck a reef and captain Francesco Schettino dithered in giving the order to abandon the stricken vessel.
According to coastguards Schettino did not give the crucial instructions until 10.58pm on Friday night, more than one hour after the initial impact with the rocks, and so wasting valuable time that contributed to the loss of six lives.
Officials say that during those chaotic minutes, the bungling skipper had tried to palm them off and minimise the dangerous situation it was facing – and that it was his juniors who realised the impending disaster and ordered passengers and crew to the lifeboats.
Proof of the ‘mutiny’ came from coastguard vessels at the scene, who reported seeing several lifeboats in the water before Schettino had officially given the order at just before 11pm.
Italian authorities believe the fact that so many lifeboats were seen in the water in the water just ten minutes after Schettino had ordered them to be launched is proof that they had already been lowered before his command.
A Coastguard source said: ‘Ten minutes is just not enough time to have launched the number of boats that were seen in the water. That’s why we believe that once the ship had started to list, crew members realised the seriousness of the situation and ordered passengers to the lifeboats ahead of the captain giving the order.’
The following is a translation of the recording, which is posted on the news website Corriere della Sera:
Captain Schettino: It’s Capt. Schettino.
Port Authority: Schettino, listen to me, there are people trapped onboard, now you go back, you will go with your rescue boat under the stern of the ship, there are some steps, you climb those steps and you get onboard and you get back to me letting me know how many people are on board. Is that clear to you? I am actually recording this conversation captain.
[inaudible, captain mumbles]
PA: Speak in a loud voice.
Captain: So, the ship right now [inaudible]…
PA: Speak in a loud voice! Put your hand by the microphone to cover it and speak up! Is that clear?
Voices in the background: "Tell him to come here. Tell him to come here."
Captain: So, right now the ship is tilted…
PA: I understand that. Listen to me, there are people that are getting off using the rope ladder on the stern side, you go back there and you go up that ladder the opposite way, you go onboard the ship and you tell me how many people [are there] And what they need. You tell me if there are children, women or people that need assistance and you give me a number for each one of these categories is that clear? Look Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea but will put you through a lot of trouble it will be very bad for you! Get back on board for [expletive]’s sake!!!
Captain: Officer, please.
PA: There are no "pleases"! Get back on board! Please assure me that you are going back on board.
Captain: I am here on the rescue boat. I’m right here, I didn’t go anywhere else, I’m here.
PA: What are you doing captain?
Captain: I’m here to coordinate rescue operations.
PA: What are you coordinating? Get back on board and coordinate rescue operations from onboard the ship.
[silence, sound cuts out]
PA: Do you refuse to do that?
Captain: No, I’m not refusing to do that.
PA: Are you refusing to back on board?
Captain: No, I am not refusing to go back. I am not going because the other rescue boat stopped.
PA: Get back on board! This is an order! You don’t need to make any other assessment. You have declared that you have abandoned ship, therefore I’m in command. Get back on board right now is that clear?