Italian coastguard heard pleading with liner captain

GIGLIO, Italy Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:53pm EST

1 of 19. Captain Francesco Schettino (C) of cruise ship Costa Concordia is escorted into a prison by police officers at Grosseto, after being questioned by magistrates in this still image from a video January 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Reuters TV

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GIGLIO, Italy (Reuters) - Italian coastguards pleaded angrily with the captain of a stricken super-liner to return to his ship, according to recordings released on Tuesday as divers found five more bodies in the half-submerged wreck of the Costa Concordia.

The discoveries took the known death toll to 11. One German who was listed as missing has been accounted for, Italy's civil protection department said, leaving 23 people still missing four days after the giant cruiser carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew was ripped open by rocks off a Tuscan island.

Captain Francesco Schettino has been allowed to leave jail but is under house arrest, blamed by his employer for risking thousands of lives and half a billion dollars of ship in a reckless display of bravado.

On Tuesday, rescuers used explosives to blast through the maze of luxury cabins, bars and spas, fast losing hope of finding anyone alive. Inside the ship, which lies on its side, heavy floating furniture and pitch-black conditions made conditions dangerous.

A tearful firefighter told Reuters: "Virtually all the dry part has been searched. It would need a miracle to find anyone alive in the wet part." No survivors have been found since Sunday.

A list of people still unaccounted for was released on the Italian interior ministry's website on Tuesday, including 13 German, four French, five Italian and two American passengers, and four crew members from Italy, India, Hungary and Peru.

Authorities said it was thought that the five bodies discovered on Tuesday were among the 28 in the list, but had not been identified yet.

Schettino is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck by sailing too close to shore and abandoning ship before all his passengers and crew scrambled off.

At an appearance before a magistrate, Schettino said he believed he should be credited with saving "hundreds, if not thousands of lives" because he brought the ship close to shore after it hit a rock, lawyer Bruno Leporatti said.

Schettino also claimed that he did not abandon the ship while passengers were still aboard.

But newspaper Corriere della Sera released what it said was a recording of ship-to-shore radio communications in which the enraged coastguards repeatedly order him back on board.

"GO BACK ON BOARD!"

"Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board!" one coastguard says.

Speaking by radio from a lifeboat, Schettino pleads: "Do you realize that it is dark and we can't see anything?"

The coastguard shouts back: "So, what do you want to do, to go home, Schettino?! It's dark and you want to go home? Go to the bow of the ship where the ladder is and tell me what needs to be done, how many people there are, and what they need! Now!"

Officials did not confirm the tape's origins but other shouts heard in the background added authenticity. The Coast Guard official on the tape told a local newspaper he could tell by the "tone of the captain's voice" that something was very wrong. Schettino's lawyer said he would not comment.

The owners of the 114,500-tonne vessel - the biggest passenger ship ever wrecked and twice the tonnage of the Titanic - accused their captain of causing the disaster by sharply deviating from the charted course.

The ship foundered after striking a rock as dinner was being served on Friday night. The owners say the captain swung inshore to "make a bow" to the islanders, who included a retired Italian admiral. Investigators say it was within 150 meters of shore.

Schettino has denied the charges and was questioned by magistrates on Tuesday. His lawyer said he also gave hair and urine samples for toxicology tests.

A judge ruled he could be allowed out of jail on Tuesday but placed him under house arrest at his home near Sorrento in southern Italy.

Three controlled blasts were detonated early on Tuesday to allow firefighters and scuba divers to enter inaccessible parts of the ship.

"Now we will have better access to the gathering points on the ship, where it seems there might be more chance of finding someone, dead or alive," said firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari.

"They will take micro-cameras in there, and we will be simultaneously looking at the few remaining dry areas and also the wet areas," he said. The weather improved slightly from Monday but seas were still choppy.

GIANT PLEASURE PALACE

The giant cruiseship, a floating pleasure palace of bars, spas, state rooms and tennis courts, slid a little on Monday, threatening to plunge 2,300 tons of fuel below the Mediterranean waters of the surrounding marine nature reserve.

This forced a brief suspension of rescue efforts, which were also halted overnight on Monday though searches are set to continue through Tuesday night. A coastguard said they would go on until the entire ship had been checked.

Hopes of finding more survivors are fast fading, more than three days after the 290-metre long ship rolled on its side with a long gash in its hull.

Most of the passengers and crew survived despite hours of chaos and confusion after the collision. The alarm was raised not by an SOS from the ship but mobile phone calls from passengers on board to Italian police on the mainland.

Video taken from a rescue helicopter in the early hours of Saturday, using a night vision camera, showed an extraordinary scene of dozens of passengers being gingerly lowered on ropes down the upturned hull of the ship into rescue boats.

The wreck, with a long gash below the waterline, looms over the normally tranquil island of Giglio.

Senior firefighter Luciano Roncalli told Reuters that all the unsubmerged areas of the liner had been searched.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini said he would declare a state of emergency because of the risk that the ship's fuel would leak into the pristine Tuscan Archipelago National Park. No fuel spillage has been detected so far, he said.

Clini said on Tuesday morning that he had given the salvage company until Wednesday to come up with a plan to remove the fuel and 10 days for a plan to remove the ship.

SKIPPER DENIES CHARGES

"You don't have to be a Nobel prize winner to understand that a ship of that size should stay far from the coast," Clini said on television on Tuesday morning.

Schettino's lawyer issued a statement saying the skipper was "broken up, troubled and saddened by the loss of life". But he believed he had saved many lives by carrying out a difficult emergency maneuver with anchors after the accident, which turned the ship closer to the shore.

The father of the ship's head waiter told Reuters his son had telephoned him before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship's whistle as they passed close by Giglio, where both the waiter, Antonello Tievoli, and his 82-year-old father Giuseppe live.

Costa Cruises chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi on Monday blamed errors by Schettino for the disaster.

Foschi said company vessels were forbidden to come closer than 500 meters to the Giglio coast. Schettino denies being too close and says the rock he hit was not marked on charts.

The ship is resting in about 20 meters (60 feet) of water but could go down by as much as 130 meters if it shifts free from the rocks.

(Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene, Silvia Aloisi, Kate Hudson and Catherine Hornby, Writing by Barry Moody and Philip Pullella; Editing by David Stamp)

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Comments (16)
Yamayoko wrote:
Give him a break. The ship captain already took on enough blame. Maybe the Italian government should have installed enough light poles to aid navigation along that reef.

Jan 17, 2012 3:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
KennyVee wrote:
I may buy the argument for more light poles if the captain hadn’t abandoned ship hours before the last passengers were evacuated, then refused to return to the ship. He showed blatant disregard for his duties after the grounding, so I have no reason to believe that he followed the rules leading up to the disaster.

The captain has no excuse for not being the last person off. He is responsible for the safety of everybody on board, not for turning tail and running away.

Jan 17, 2012 4:39am EST  --  Report as abuse
I agree with KennyVee. That captain did turn tail and run away, leaving the passengers to sink or swim. It is disgusting what little regard for life this man had; however, I wonder if I were he what I would have done in that situation.

Jan 17, 2012 7:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
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