Concordia captain: Stupid mistake led to shipwreck

2014-12-02 20:19
The wreckage of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship emerges from water near the harbour of Giglio Porto as salvage operators lifted the ship upright from its watery grave. (Andreas Solaro, AFP)

The wreckage of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship emerges from water near the harbour of Giglio Porto as salvage operators lifted the ship upright from its watery grave. (Andreas Solaro, AFP)

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Rome - The Costa Concordia cruise liner was shipwrecked almost three years ago as a result of a "stupid mistake", captain Francesco Schettino said on Tuesday, during his first questioning in the trial where he is accused of manslaughter and other serious crimes.

The Concordia hit rocks and partially capsized on the night of 13 January 2012, after it was taken off route and steered close to the island of Giglio. There were 4 229 people on board, and 32 died in the accident.

"The genesis of the disaster was a stupid mistake," Schettino told public prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi, referring to the lack of communication between himself and other crew members in the run up to the collision.

"Don't think that I am not tormented?" the 54-year-old said during proceedings in Grosseto, central Italy.

One of the things that went wrong during the approach to Giglio is that someone on the deck should have taken over look-out responsibilities from Indonesian crew member Jacob Rusli Bin, who was moved to the helmsman position, Schettino said.

His deputy Ciro Ambrosio, who was in command of the Concordia at the start of the manoeuvre, took that decision. Schettino said he did not notice the problem because, even if he was also there, he was busy with a phone conversation.

Schettino entered the Concordia's command room 11 minutes before the accident, but formally assumed control of the cruise liner five minutes later, leaving Ambrosio in charge for a while even as his superior was standing alongside him.

Black box recordings have previously revealed that once Schettino took over, Rusli Bin had trouble understanding his steering orders. It is a matter of controversy whether the collision could have been avoided had the helmsman acted more promptly.

Schettino said the detour near Giglio was made for three reasons: as a favour to head waiter Antonello Tievoli, whose relatives lived on the island; to pay homage to his friend, retired captain Mario Palumbo, also from Giglio; and as a publicity stunt.

The captain said it meant "hitting three birds with one stone".

Costa Crociere, the owners of the Concordia, were not informed about the detour, but such changes in route were carried out regularly, and the captain had full discretionary powers over them, Schettino told the court.

He rejected suggestions that the Concordia was unseaworthy - even if his lawyers had previously suggested that it had safety shortcomings - and insisted that the speed at which the ship approached Giglio - 15 nautical miles, or 28 kilometres per hour - was not too high.

Due to its exceptional nature, Schettino's trial is being held in a theatre, rather than in a courtroom. He arrived by car, wearing sunglasses and a grey suit. He asked not to be filmed during questioning, so Italian media only broadcast audio of his remarks.

Schettino's testimony was expected to continue at least until Wednesday.

After the accident, the captain was widely blamed for the shipwreck, and he became an international figure of ridicule after it was revealed that he abandoned the ship before all passengers were evacuated, and dodged orders to return aboard.

In Grosseto, he is the only defendant, and prosecutors say he risks a jail sentence of up to 20 years. A first instance ruling may be delivered as soon as next month, but the legal case could continue for years through appeals proceedings.

In several media interviews, Schettino has complained that it is wrong to pin all the blame for the shipwreck on him.

Last year, four crew members and a Costa Crociere manager negotiated plea bargain agreements carrying suspended jail sentences ranging from 18 to 34 months. In a separate plea deal, Costa Crociere paid a €1m fine.

Meanwhile, the wreck of the Concordia is being dismantled. It was removed from Giglio in July, at the end of a salvage operation that cost at least $1.9bn, and which claimed the lif of a diver employed on the project.

Read more on:    italy  |  costa concordia  |  cruise line disaster

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