View from the bridge: the inside story of Italy's cruise disaster

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Coastguard tapes and witness accounts paint damning picture of captain's dereliction

Giglio

As further details emerged yesterday of the chaotic events that led to the Costa Concordia disaster, one constant remained – the blame continued to fall squarely (many would say fairly) on the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino.

Mulletted, jowly and not averse to a photo-opportunity, Mr Schettino, 52, who left his passengers and crew behind on the sinking vessel, was questioned yesterday at a court in the mainland town of Grosseto. He was released under house arrest and faces charges that could see him jailed for 15 years.

Investigators have accused him of multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship before all of the survivors could be saved. At least 11 people died and up to 29 were still unaccounted for last night. Captain Schettino's arrest is expected to be upheld by a preliminary investigating judge.

Recordings of Mr Schettino's startling conversations with a shocked fellow seaman and a coastguard have revealed the disorder, incompetence and cowardice that doomed so many.

As terrified passengers tried to abandon the sinking cruise ship in the early hours of Saturday, its commander had already beaten most of his charges in the scramble for dry land. An incredulous and apoplectic captain of the Livorno coast guard, Gregorio Maria De Falco, can be heard on the tapes shrieking at Mr Schettino to "get back on board, for fuck's sake!"

The evening had started calmly enough. But catastrophe was on the cards the moment that Captain Schettino – who, according to Italian media reports, "drives his ship like a Ferrari" – decided on a special show-boating approach to the pretty island of Giglio, in order to salute a legendary local cruise liner captain, Mario Palombo. The stunt was even promoted on Facebook.

According to a transcript of the conversation between the captain and the coastguard, just minutes before the Costa Concordia hit a submerged rock at 9.45pm, Mr Schettino was making a phone call to the retired Mr Palombo, who lives on Giglio. "I'm going to salute you," he said, even though Mr Palombo was not on the island at the time.

The call was interrupted, apparently as the liner collided with rocks. At 9.49pm, Captain De Falco, aware that something was amiss – perhaps because panicking passengers were calling the emergency services – contacted the ship's bridge to ask what was happening. "Nothing, just a technical problem," said Mr Schettino, despite having steered his vessel over rocks that left a 50m gash in its side.

At 9.54pm Captain De Falco was back on the line, asking: "Concordia, we're calling to ask if everything is OK."

"Yes, it's just a technical thing," Capt Schettino replied.

This mendacious and possibly lethal misinformation was passed to the 3,200 passengers, who carried on eating and drinking when they should have been heading to lifeboats. Some of the crew demanded that the captain speed up the evacuation, but he appeared to do what many Italians resort to when the heat is on – and phoned his mother. "Mum, there's been a tragedy... but don't worry, I tried to save the passengers," he told her, before jumping ship.

At 12.42am, after a series of calls to Mr Schettino's mobile phone from the increasingly suspicious Mr De Falco, the ship's captain finally lets slip the phrase: "We can't go back aboard because the ship is slipping backwards."

"Captain, have you abandoned the ship?" asks the astonished official.

Mr Schettino lies, saying: "Of course not. How could I have abandoned the ship?"

The coastguard then says: "Now, go to the prow, raise the rope ladders and co-ordinate the evacuation. Tell us how many people are still on board: children, women, passengers, and the exact number in each category. Is that clear?"

Mr Schettino eventually replies that he is not keen to go back on board because it is dark and the Concordia is listing. "But do you realise it is dark and here we can't see anything," he says.

This only served to underline the plight in which he had left his passengers. It also produced a final, furious response from Mr De Falco. "Look Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea, but I'm going to see you get it... I'm going to make sure you're in real trouble. Get the fuck back on board!"

To underline his threat, Capt De Falco even tells the commander that he is recording his orders. Mr Schettino says: "Okay, I'm going." But he never does.

Instead, he appears to have spent the night in the harbourmaster's office in the little port of Giglio. A taxi-driver has reported that he picked him up at 11.30am and took him the 400 metres to the Bahamas Hotel. The hotel owner said Mr Schettino did not book in, but it is known that police detained him soon afterwards.

Yesterday, Mr Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, denied that his client had abandoned ship, adding that he was "overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims".

He insisted that the captain's actions in anchoring the vessel at one end to swing it closer to the shore after the collision "saved the lives of thousands of people". "It could have been an enormous tragedy," Mr Leporatti said.

But even Costa Crocier, which owns the Costa Concordia, appears to have jettisoned its employee, having accused Capt Schettino of making an "inexplicable" error.

Transcript: The captain's shame

Port Authority (PA) "Schettino, listen to me, there are people trapped onboard, now you go back... you tell me if there are children, women or people that need assistance and you give me a number for each one of these categories is that clear? Look Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea but [we] will put you through a lot of trouble... Get back on board for fuck's sake."

Schettino "Commander, please."

PA "There are no 'pleases'. Get back on board!"

Schettino "I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped."

PA "Don't make any more excuses... There are already bodies, Schettino."

Schettino How many bodies...?

PA I don't know... You are the one who has to tell me... Christ.

Schettino But... it is dark...

PA So what? You want go home? Get on that prow... and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
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
Latest stories from i100
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

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride