Cruise ship's black box reveals confused orders

Disgraced skipper of stricken liner may face manslaughter charges

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The Independent Online

The black box onboard the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship which sank claiming 32 lives, recorded the captain and first officer shouting conflicting "turn to port" and "turn to starboard" instructions to the helmsman moments before the collision, a closed hearing heard yesterday.

The recording also apparently captured captain Francesco Schettino, 51, saying "Let's go and do a salute [to Giglio]" in his native Neapolitan dialect. Moments after giving the initial order "hard to port", Mr Schettino changed his mind and ordered: "Hard to starboard. Close the watertight doors in the engine room," the session reportedly heard.

After the liner hit rocks just yards off the Italian island of Giglio, an impact which tore a 50m hole in the hull, the black box recorded the captain asking: "So are we really going down? I don't understand."

The hearing in the Tuscan port of Grosseto will decide whether Mr Schettino is indicted on charges of abandoning ship before his passengers, and of multiple manslaughter. Five crew members, including the vessel's second in command, Ciro Ambrosio, may also be indicted after the hearing, which is due to last up to six days. So many people are expected to attend, including 1,000 survivors and 120 lawyers, that the hearing is in a theatre.

Mr Schettino met survivors face to face yesterday and even shook hands with one passenger who escaped the cruise ship on the night of 13 January.

"Yes, we have to find out the truth," Mr Schettino was heard telling Concordia passenger Luciano Castro. After shaking the disgraced captain's hand, Mr Castro concurred: "We hope that the truth is established."

Despite being captain of the ship, Mr Schettino was quickly off the vessel before hundreds of his passengers. He has told investigators that he tripped into a lifeboat.

Marine experts, including a senior lifeguard officer, have already said that a crowd-pleasing but risky manoeuvre in which the ship was sailed too close to shore caused the fatal collision.

They also said delays in evacuating the liner, which had more than 4,000 passengers and crew aboard, were responsible for most of the fatalities. However, Mr Schettino has insisted that his skill in bringing the sinking ship closer to shore saved lives.

Others were in a less forgiving mood than Mr Castro. "We're lucky we're not dead," said Ernesto Carusotti, another passenger. "Schettino has to take his share of the blame."

British couple Charanjit Phander, 52, and his wife, Mohan, 48, said they wanted an explanation for the confusion after the collision. Mr Phander said: "No one really knew what was happening. There seemed to be a long wait from the initial problems to finally being told to get life jackets on."

Investigators have also questioned the standard of Costa Cruises' emergency procedures, and three senior company officials, including marine operations director Roberto Ferrarini, may also stand trial after the evidence accumulated so far is presented this week to the preliminary investigations judge, Valeria Montesarchio.