herald

Saturday 23 September 2017

Skipper accused of fleeing sinking ship

The captain of the Costa Concordia faced accusations from authorities and passengers that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated and was showing off when he steered the vessel far too close to shore.

Divers searching the murky depths of the partially submerged liner found the bodies of two elderly men still in their life jackets, bringing the confirmed death toll to five. At least 15 people were still missing.

The recovered bodies were discovered at an emergency gathering point near the restaurant where many of the 4,200 on board were dining when the luxury liner struck rocks or a reef off the tiny island of Giglio.

It was reported the dead were an Italian and a Spaniard.

Meanwhile, attention focused on the captain, who was spotted by Coast Guard officials and passengers fleeing the scene even as the chaotic and terrifying evacuation was under way.

The ship's Italian owner, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, said yesterday saying there appeared to be "significant human error" on the part of the captain, Francesco Schettino, "which resulted in these grave consequences".

Authorities were holding Capt Schettino for suspected manslaughter and a prosecutor confirmed they were investigating allegations the captain abandoned the liner before all the passengers had escaped.

A French woman on board, Ophelie Gondelle said she saw the captain in a lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off the ship.

"The commander left before and was on the dock before everyone was off," she said.

Coast Guard officers later spotted Capt Schettino on land as the evacuation unfolded. The officers urged him to return to his shipuntil everyone was safely off the vessel, but he ignored them, Coast Guard Commander Francesco Paolillo said.

Capt Schettino insisted he did not leave the liner early, telling reporters that he had done everything he could to save lives. "We were the last ones to leave the ship," he said.

Questions also swirled about why the ship had navigated so close to the dangerous reefs and rocks that jut off Giglio's eastern coast, amid suspicions the captain may have ventured too close while carrying out a manoeuvre to entertain tourists.

Residents of Giglio said they had never seen the Costa come so close to the reef area.

hnews@herald.ie

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