The plot thickens: Was woman drinking with captain – or an innocent aboard?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Italian media hunts for dancer amid claims she was on bridge in cruise disaster

Giglio

The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster has served up the final ingredients needed for a true scandal; a pretty young woman allegedly seen with the ship's captain shortly before the crash.

Claims that a "mystery woman" – swiftly identified as Domnica Cemortan, a 25-year-old dancer from Moldova – was on the bridge of the ship with its disgraced captain, Francesco Schettino, have unleashed a torrent of questions and accusations. They also gave investigators a new lead amid suggestions the ship's commander had been drinking before the accident.

Reports said the presence of the young woman on the bridge may have provided another distraction for the show-boating skipper, who it appears was already intent on making a risky "sail-by", at the pretty Tuscan island of Giglio, that ended in tragedy.

Captain Schettino is under house arrest, accused of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning ship before his passengers. Police and prosecutors said they were keen to talk to the dancer over suggestions she was on the bridge with the captain at the time of impact.

Italian newspapers and British tabloids despatched reporters to Moldova in search of the femme fatale. But she surfaced yesterday in an interview with a Romanian newspaper Adevarul, in which she confirmed she had been on the bridge with Mr Schettino. But she said that at the moment of the vessel's impact with rocks, she was at dinner. She was then called on to the bridge to translate into Russian information that officers wanted to relay to passengers.

Ms Cemortan defended Mr Schettino, saying his actions after the crash had saved thousands of people. She added that he was "very skillful and experienced when it comes to manoeuvring the ship in enclosed spaces".

Costa Costiere, the Concordia's owners, denied reports that Ms Cemortan, who has worked for the company, had not been correctly registered as a passenger. A witness quoted in another Italian newspaper said he had seen Mr Schettino "drink several glasses of wine" with a companion and an officer, while all three dined at the ship's ritzy Club Concordia restaurant at 9.05pm on Friday, about 35 minutes before the ship's impact with the rocks.

In the Il Secolo XIX newspaper, Angelo Fabbri, a passenger from Savona, said Captain Schettino had "just finished his first glass, and the waiter was about to pour the last drop from the decanter in rather high spirits".

Mr Schettino, 52, dressed in a dinner suit, was sitting in front of a young woman, whom the witness thought "might have been his daughter". They appeared to be enjoying themselves and there "was no doubt they drank the whole decanter and that the last drop went to the captain".

The seaman, who is married with a daughter, had denied drinking on the night of the disaster and told police following his detention that he was willing to undergo drug tests. The Grosseto prosecutor Francesco Verusio said the toxicological tests were "still ongoing".

Meanwhile, an audiotape emerged yesterday of the first contact between Livorno port officials and the Costa Concordia, in which the bridge is heard insisting that the cruise ship is suffering only an electrical blackout – 30 minutes after it had rammed into a reef.

In the communication, an unidentified officer is heard assuring the port official that he was checking out the reasons for the blackout. He doesn't reveal that the ship has hit a reef.

However, the port officer tells the ship that his agency had heard from a relative of one of ship's sailors that "during dinner everything fell on their heads."

"We are verifying the conditions on board," the officer replies. Asked if passengers had been told to put on life jackets, he responds: "Correct."

Costa Crociere has accused Mr Schettino of causing the wreck by making the unapproved detour, and the captain has acknowledged carrying out what he called a "tourist navigation" that brought the ship closer to Giglio.

Mr Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said his client was "overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims".

Time runs short in search for final survivors

The determination of rescuers to find more survivors aboard the Costa Concordia seemed last night to be coming increasingly into conflict with plans to salvage the stricken ship's 2,400 tonnes of fuel to avert an environmental disaster.

Contradictory statements from emergency workers about how much time divers had left to scour the ship for missing passengers or, more likely, their bodies came as two of the five dead found earlier this week were named as Pierre Gregoire and Jeanne Gannard, both French nationals.

So far, 11 passengers have been declared dead and hopes of finding any of the 21 missing people alive are fading. But rescue divers said they were determined to keep searching the flooded vessel after the sea became calmer yesterday.

The pressure to continue was heightened when an Italian mother, Susy Albertini, made an anguished plea on national television for emergency workers to keep searching for her five-year-old daughter Dyana, who is missing with her father, William Arlotti.

Diving experts also warned that the salvage operation, which was being stepped up in Giglio Port yesterday, might impede their activities. Danilo Del Carro, marshal of the coast guard divers' division, who helped to retrieve five bodies on Tuesday, said: "Depending on the weather, I think we've got two more days. The salvage firm is getting stuff in place already. But when the floating equipment is out there it will get in the way of what we do."

However, Filippo Marini, the chief of the Italian coast guard, said: "The absolute priority is finding the people aboard the vessel. The salvage work can proceed if it allows the rescue work to continue in absolute security for the divers."

Michael Day

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Representative, Leicester

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

Sales Representative, Birmingham

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

Juniper Security Consultant

£300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Juniper Security Consultant London (Greater)

C# .NET Developer (SQL, ASP.NET, JS, MVC) London - Finance

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Develo...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment