Coast Guard to Italian captain: Go back aboard!
ROME - The Associated Press
AFP photo"You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me?" the Coast Guard officer shouted as the captain of the grounded Costa Concordia sat safe in a life raft and frantic passengers struggled to escape after the ship rammed into a reef off the Tuscan coast.
"It is an order. Don't make any more excuses. You have declared 'Abandon ship.' Now I am in charge."
The dramatic recording made public yesterday shows Capt. Francesco Schettino resisted orders to return to his ship to direct the evacuation, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping perilously.
The exchange came to light as the death toll nearly doubled to 11 after divers pulled the bodies of four men and a woman, all wearing life vests, from the wreckage. Some two dozen people remain missing.
The Costa Concordia had more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board when it slammed into the reef Friday off the tiny island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized maneuver from the ship's programmed course apparently to show off the luxury liner to the island's residents.
Schettino faces 12 years in prison for
abandoning ship alone. AP photo
"Listen Schettino," De Falco can be heard shouting in the audio tape. "There are people trapped on board. ... You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?" But Schettino resisted, saying the ship was listing and he was with his second-in-command in the lifeboat.
"I am here with the rescue boats. I am here. I am not going anywhere. I am here," he said. "I am here to coordinate the rescue."
"What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?" came the response.
Schettino said he was not refusing, but he still did not return to the ship, saying at one point: "Do you realize it is dark and here we can't see anything?" De Falco shouted back: "And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!"
The exchange also indicates that Schettino did not know anyone had died, with De Falco telling him at one point: "There are already bodies now, Schettino." "How many bodies?" Schettino asks in a nervous tone.
"You are the one who has to tell me how many there are!" De Falco barks in response.
Schettino was finally heard on the tape agreeing to reboard. But the Coast Guard has said he never went back, and police arrested him on land several hours later.
The audio, first made available on the website of the Corriere della Sera newspaper and authenticated by the Coast Guard, was broadcast throughout the day on Italian television to a stunned nation.
Jailed since the accident, Schettino appeared Tuesday before a judge in Grosseto, where he was questioned for three hours.
Video grab shows passengers lined up on the side of
the cruiser during evacuation. AP photo
Criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship are expected to be filed by prosecutors in coming days. He faces 12 years in prison for the abandoning ship charge alone.
At the hearing, Leporatti said the captain gave his version of events, insisting that after the initial crash into the reefs he had maneuvered the ship close to shore in a way that "saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives." The lawyer said urine and hair samples were taken from Schettino, apparently to determine if he might have consumed alcohol or used drugs before the accident.
Tanned and looking younger than his 52 years, Schettino has worked for 11 years for the ship's Italian operator, Costa Crociere SpA, achieving the rank of captain in 2006. He hails from Meta di Sorrento in the Naples area, which produces many of Italy's ferry and cruise boat captains. He attended the Nino Bixio merchant marine school near Sorrento.
The five bodies discovered yesterday were adults in their 50s or 60s, each wearing the orange vests that passengers use, indicating they were not crew members, said a Coast Guard spokesman, Cmdr. Filippo Marini. Their nationalities were not immediately released.
Before the grim finding, authorities had said 25 passengers and four crew members were missing. They include two Americans, 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, a Hungarian, an Indian and a Peruvian.
Mediterranean waters in the area were relatively calm yesterday with waves just 30 centimeters high, but they were expected to reach nearly 1.8 meters today, according to meteorological forecasts.
A Dutch shipwreck salvage firm said it would take its engineers and divers two to four weeks to extract the 1.8 million liters of fuel aboard the ship. The safe removal of the fuel has become a priority second only to finding the missing, as the wreckage site lies in a maritime sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Preliminary phases of the fuel extraction could begin as early as today if approved by Italian officials, the company said.
Smit, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said no fuel had leaked and the ship's tanks appeared intact. While there is a risk the ship could shift in larger waves, it has so far been relatively stable perched on top of rocks near Giglio's port.
Smit's operations manager, Kees van Essen, said the company was confident the fuel could safely be extracted using pumps and valves to vacuum the oil out to waiting tanks.
"But there are always environmental risks in these types of operations," he told reporters.
The company said any discussion about the fate of the ship whether it is removed in one piece or broken up would be decided by Costa Crociere and its insurance companies.
Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns the Italian operator, estimated that preliminary losses from having the Concordia out of commission through 2012 would be between $85 million and $95 million, along with other costs. The company's share price slumped more than 16 percent Monday.
Carnival said its deductible on damage to the ship was approximately $30 million. In addition, the company faces a deductible of $10 million for third-party personal injury liability claims.
Carnival said other costs related to the grounding can't yet be determined.