Cruise liner's captain sailed close to island to 'salute' crew mate's home


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The Independent Online

The owners of the Costa Concordia admitted yesterday that the ship's captain had been sailing too close to rocks in order to impress people on the shore – and give the head waiter a better view of his home – amid serious concerns that an environmental disaster could compound the tragedy.

The Italian authorities are investigating claims that the Costa Concordia was deliberately sailed close to a Tuscan island in order to give a crew member a better view of his home.

Captain Francesco Schettino, who is under arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and abandoning his ship, is reported to have summoned the ship's head waiter to the bridge just before it struck a a reef, resulting in the deaths of up to 22 people.

Witnesses said Antonello Tievoli told the captain to be careful and warned him that he was "extremely close to the shore" of his native Giglio where the vessel has previously performed a sail-past with its horn blasting.

The ship's owners, Costa Cruises, blamed "human error" for Friday night's disaster involving 4,200 passengers and crew, including 35 Britons, which is set to become the biggest insurance loss in maritime history. Clarence Mitchell, representing Costa Cruises, confirmed the captain had been approaching the island to "make a salute".

He said: "The company says this (incident) was caused by an attempt by the captain to show the ship to the port. But there's a criminal investigation going on and we're not going to say anything that's going to compromise that or the captain's case."

Prosecutor Francesco Verusio said the captain's actions were "inexcusable", describing the final tack as "reckless". A judge will decide today whether to press charges.

A sixth body was discovered as the search for a further 25 missing passengers continued into the night.

Italy fears an environmental disaster caused by up to half a million gallons of fuel oil leaking into the pristine waters of the dolphin sanctuary. Italy's Environment Minister, Corrado Clini, said the risk of an ecological disaster was "very, very high".

Rescuers were forced to temporarily abandon their hunt for survivors when the 114,500-ton ship began sliding in heavy seas with the weather expected to worsen. Hopes of finding anyone alive are diminishing after firefighters ended their search of cabins and areas above the water level.