Captain claims owners knew of evacuation delay

Giglio

The captain blamed for the Costa Concordia disaster has said his employer was party to his decision to delay the evacuation – something that is thought to have increased the death toll after the cruise liner crashed into rocks.

Francesco Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said: "It's obvious that from the moment of the collision Francesco Schettino kept Costa [the operator of the vessel] informed of what was happening on the ship.

"Captain Schettino warned the company of the Costa Concordia's problem in line with his duty."

It has been established that after the vessel hit the rocks, Mr Schettino – who is accused of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning ship before his passengers – spoke on three occasions to Costa Cruises before the official evacuation started at 10.58pm.

Prosecutors want to know whether the 76-minute delay in ordering passenger to abandon ship was due to Mr Schettino playing down the seriousness of the situation or if Costa sanctioned the delay. Italian papers have suggested the company was reluctant to make compensation payments of up to €30m (£25m) that would have been triggered automatically by a night-time evacuation.

But Costa's chairman, Pier Luigi Foschi, denied this yesterday. "We have no precedents of this type. I can assure you absolutely that no one was thinking in financial terms, which would have been in contravention of our code of ethics," he said.

When asked at what point Costa was aware of the extent of the disaster he replied: "Only when the signal to evacuate the ship was given." He also suggested Mr Schettino had lied.

"There's an investigation under way. Personally I believe he hasn't been honest with us."

Yesterday a video emerged showing a crew member telling people in life jackets to return to their cabins 30 minutes after the Costa Concordia had hit the rocks. She is heard saying: "There is an electrical problem, but it's all under control. Please go back to your cabins."

Witnesses have claimed that Mr Schettino drank "several glasses" of wine during dinner in the company of a dancer, who later joined him on the bridge. The vessel hit the rocks at 9:42pm last Friday while Mr Schettino was allegedly attempting a show-boating manoeuvre close to the scenic island.

The prosecutor in the nearby town of Grosseto has said the results of drug and alcohol tests are still pending.

Flowers were cast on to the sea yesterday at the scene of the wreck by relatives of those still missing. Up to 32 people are feared dead, with 11 confirmed dead and 21 unaccounted for. The mother of a five-year-old girl made a tearful appearance on the island. Susy Albertini said: "Despite every day that goes by we still hold out hope of finding her alive." Her daughter Dayana and her father Williams Arlotti are still listed as missing.

Rescue workers were forced to temporarily suspend their operations on the 17-deck vessel yesterday after experts warned that it was slowly slipping off a rocky underwater shelf into the open Mediterranean at the rate of 1.5cm an hour. They later said they would resume work today after the movement appeared to have stopped.

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