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The investigation into the capsizing of the Costa Concordia is focusing on whether the captain steered the ship close to an Italian island as some kind of salute.
Captain Francesco Schettino is facing accusations he decided to “skim” the island of Giglio on the coast in an acknowledgement to former Costa cruises commander Mario Palombo.
Mr Palombo, who retired in 2006 due to ill health, has been quoted as saying he used to carry out the traditional sail past and is expected to be questioned by investigators.
“I would always agree it with the harbour master. I don’t understand how this happened or what was going through my colleague’s head,” he said.
This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorised and unknown to Costa.
Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi
But he added: “Permission from the harbour master is not always necessary as on board the captain is in charge. He can take whatever route he likes.”
Reporting for Sky News from Giglio, Nick Pisa said the doomed sail past was also a favour for the Concordia’s maitre d’ Antonello Tievoli, who is also from Giglio.
“He reportedly told rescuers on Friday night when he was taken to the island from the liner: ‘I never thought I would get dropped off at home’.”
Italian media claimed moments before the cruise ship suffered the huge gash to its hull, the captain had told Mr Tievoli: “Antonio, come and look. We are passing over your Giglio.”
Mr Tievoli’s sister Patrizia, a teacher on Giglio, wrote on Facebook at 9.08pm on Friday: “Shortly the Costa Concordia will pass really, really close, a big hello to my brother who will disembark at Savona and finally get to enjoy some holiday.”
The captain, 52, who is also facing claims he left the boat before many of his passengers, has been arrested on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and abandoning the vessel.
He has been accused of steering the cruise ship too close to the shore, leading to it becoming stuck on a rocky outcrop known as Le Scole.
It ran aground and started to capsize, sparking panic on board just a few hours into its voyage. So far, six people have been confirmed dead, while 16 are still missing.
Rescue efforts have been ongoing since Friday night but are now suspended because the ship is still moving and there are fears of an environmental disaster if fuel leaks.
Prosecutors have said the liner should have been at least four miles out to sea amid claims it was in fact as little as 150 yards away.
The ship’s owner Costa Crociere SpA has said “preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s master”.
The company also claimed Captain Schettino’s judgment in handling the emergency appeared “to have not followed standard Costa procedures”.
Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said again on Monday the captain had made an “unauthorised” deviation from the planned route.
Distancing the company from the skipper, Mr Foschi said all Costa ships have their routes programmed and that alarms would go off if they deviated.
“This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorised and unknown to Costa,” he said.
Captain Schettino, who has worked for the company for 11 years, has insisted he was the last to leave the ship and blamed the accident on the boat’s navigation system not detecting the rocks beneath.
“What happened is that while we were moving with a tourist navigation system, as you can see by the rip (in the ship) there was a lateral rock projection,” he said.
“Even though we were sailing along the coast with the tourist navigation system, I firmly believe that the rocks were not detected as the ship was not heading forward but sideways as if underwater there was this rock projection.
“I don’t know if it was detected or not but on the nautical chart it was marked just as water at some 100-150m from the rocks and we were about 300m from the shore, more or less. We shouldn’t have had this contact.”
When he was asked who was the last to abandon ship, he replied: “We were the last to leave.”
His sister Giulia has told how how he called their mother Rosa, 80, at 5am to tell her: “Mama, there has been a tragedy. But stay calm. I tried to save the passengers. But for a while, I won’t be able to phone you.”
The captain’s lawyer Bruno Leporatti said: “My client understands the reasons why he has been detained but as his legal representative I would to like to say that several hundred people owe their lives to the skill of the commander of the Costa Concordia.”
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio – when asked if the captain had fled before the ship was evacuated – said: “Unfortunately, I must confirm that circumstance.”
Captain Schettino is due to appear before an investigating magistrate at Grosseto on Tuesday morning to decide if he should be kept in custody or released as the investigation continues.
According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.