A dramatic recording has been released apparently revealing how the captain of a capsized cruise liner ignored orders to go back to the ship he had abandoned.
Francesco Schettino told port authorities everything was fine shortly before the vessel sank, it has emerged.
He claimed there was only a “small technical failure” – but in fact the Costa Concordia had already run aground, according to the timings of the radio conversation obtained by Italian media.
Mr Schettino is appearing in court charged with manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck – all of which he denies.
The liner crashed into rocks off the Tuscan coast near the island of Giglio on Friday night.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead since the Costa Concordia was evacuated and at least 24 others are believed to be missing.
Rescuers searching for survivors have been using explosives to blast holes into the vessel.
Transcripts of taped telephone conversations released by authorities suggested Mr Schettino was evasive when ordered by a port official to supervise the rescue.
Prosecutors suspect Mr Schettino and his first officer left the ship as much as up to three hours before all the passengers and crew were taken off.
“Now you go to the bow, you climb up the emergency ladder and co-ordinate the evacuation,” the official reportedly tells him.
“You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers are there and the exact number of each category.
What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue? Captain, this is an order, I am the one in charge now. You have declared abandoning ship. There are already bodies.
Coastguard official’s instructions to Francesco Schettino
“What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue? Captain, this is an order, I am the one in charge now. You have declared abandoning ship. There are already bodies.”
“How many?” Mr Schettino says, to which the official responds: “That is for you to tell me, what are you doing? Do you want to go home?”
Mr Schettino said in an earlier telephone call that: “(We) cannot get on board because the rear of the ship is keeling over.”
The captain, who is being detained on suspicion of manslaughter and abandoning his vessel, was returned to jail on Tuesday after a judge said she would consider his request for bail in the coming days.
At the hearing, he repeated his denial that he left the ship before his passengers and claimed his actions had saved hundreds of lives.
He has been accused by the vessel’s owner, Costa Cruises, of sailing close to land to “make a salute”.
It has been reported that junior officers on board the Costa Concordia led a ‘mutiny’ after the ship struck a reef and Mr Schettino dithered in giving the order to abandon the stricken vessel.
A total of 4,200 people were on board the Costa Concordia when it crashed
According to coastguard and port authorities, he did not give the crucial instructions until 10.58pm on Friday night, more than an hour after the initial impact with the rocks.
Officials say that during those chaotic minutes, the captain tried to palm them off and minimise the dangerous situation it was facing – and that it was his juniors who realised the impending disaster and ordered passengers and crew to the lifeboats.
Proof of the ‘mutiny’ came from coastguard vessels at the scene, who reported seeing several lifeboats in the water before Mr Schettino had officially given the order just before 11pm.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that in 2010 Mr Schettino gave an interview to a Czech newspaper where he said he never wanted to face a scenario like the Titantic.
He told Dnes: “I wouldn’t like to be in the role of the captain of the Titanic, having to sail in an ocean of icebergs.
“But I think that thanks to preparation, you can handle any situation and deal with potential problems.”
A Facebook group has been set up in Francesco Schettino’s name with Italian users calling him a “coward” and saying he should be sent to prison.
Costa Cruises chairman Pier Luigi Foschi has apologised for the tragedy, which has left dozens of the 4,200 people on board injured and the 114,000-tonne ship lying on its side.
Antonello Tievoli, the Concordia’s maitre d’ – the sail past was said to be a favour for him
Clarence Mitchell, who is representing Costa Cruises, said: “Mr Foschi confirmed the captain had been approaching the island of Giglio to ‘make a salute’.
“The company says this (incident) was caused by an attempt by the captain to show the ship to the port.
“But there’s a criminal investigation going on and we’re not going to say anything that’s going to compromise that or the captain’s case.”
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio said the captain’s alleged conduct was “inexcusable.”
“We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless manoeuvre that the commander of the Costa Concordia made near the island of Giglio.”
The tragedy could also become an environmental crisis as rough seas battering the ship have raised fears fuel might leak into waters that are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.