Captain Francesco Schettino, the man accused of causing the Costa Concordia disaster, was entertaining his young lover – against the rules – on the ship’s bridge when the giant vessel struck a reef off the Italian coast, it emerged.
His former lover, the Moldavian dancer Domnica Cemortan, 26, admitted to an Italian court she was having an affair with the married 53-year-old captain, who is accused of allowing his showboating behaviour to cost the lives of 32 people after the giant vessel partially capsized off the island of Giglio in January 2012.
Prosecutors have alleged that the large number of superfluous people on the bridge at the time of the collision, particularly the presence of Ms Cemortan, “generated confusion and distraction for the captain”.
Previously, Ms Cemortan has said she had only been called up to the ship’s bridge after the accident in order to translate vital information that officers wanted to relay to Russian passengers.
However, under sustained questioning by a lawyer representing victims of the disaster, and after being threatened with contempt of court by the judge, Ms Cemortan said: “Yes I had an affair with the captain.” She also admitted through her interpreter that she was not on the official passenger list and was not in possession of a ticket, noting that her relationship with the captain had allowed her on board.
Captain Schettino, who has blamed his helmsman for the collision, is on trial for multiple manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.
The court heard that Captain Schettino had made a similar sail-by, very close to the island off the Tuscan coast, a week before the accident.
Antonello Tievoli, a ship’s waiter, said he had asked the captain to sail close to Giglio to salute his family who lived there. “The night of 6 January, I asked the commander if he could move closer to the island than usual, since we were still in the Christmas holidays. And he agreed, but was not satisfied with the distance. He thought it wasn’t close enough. He asked his second in command Ciro Ambrosio to repeat it the following week.”
Ms Cemortan has defended Captain Schettino’s actions after the crash, portraying him as an officer in control of the situation. This notion was undermined, however, by the emergence of a video suggesting the reaction of officers on the bridge after the collision veered from initial complacency to panic.
Another of the ship’s waiting staff, Ciro Onorato, who had been invited to the bridge on the night of the crash, told the court that he went back down to the restaurant to help the passengers, but was then recalled to the bridge by Captain Schettino, who was already wearing a life jacket over his uniform. The captain told him: “Don’t leave me.”
Captain Schettino is also charged with abandoning ship before his passengers. He claims he slipped and fell into a lifeboat from which he was unable to extract himself.