The search of the capsized cruise liner off the Italian coast is due to resume – after a Moldovan woman defended the ship’s embattled captain.
Domnica Cemortan, who was rumoured to have been dining with captain Francesco Schettino when the Costa Concordia crashed into a reef, denied he was among the first to leave the vessel.
“I’ve heard in Russian media that the captain left the ship first, or among the first, but this isn’t true,” she said.
“As a witness, I can say I left the deck at 11.50pm following an order from the captain, who told me to go to the third deck to get into a lifeboat that could take more people.”
Domnica Cemortan said the captain ordered her to leave the ship (pic: Adervarul TV)
Ms Cemortan, who told Moldovan daily Adevarul she was dining with “colleagues, so to speak” and had been helping translate instructions for Russian passengers, praised Schettino’s actions.
“He did a great thing. He saved over 3,000 lives,” she said.
Attention has focused on Ms Cemortan amid reports by crew and passengers that Schettino was seen eating dinner with a Russian-speaking woman at the time of the impact.
She had worked as a hostess for the Italian cruise operator, although her contract had expired and she was on a holiday with friends when she boarded the liner.
Francesco Schettino has been pilloried by the Italian media
Schettino has been put under house arrest after appearing before an Italian judge on Tuesday.
He has been accused of causing the accident by coming too close to the shore so he could “make a salute” and also of abandoning ship before the evacuation was complete.
Eleven people are known to have died after the ship ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio, with 21 still missing.
Divers are due to continue looking for bodies on the vessel, with salvage crews set to begin pumping 2,300 tonnes of fuel once that search is called off.
Divers are due to continue searching for bodies still on the vessel
It comes after dramatic new pictures emerged of the panicked final moments of the Costa Concordia and a damning new audio recording revealed the crew initially refused offers of help.
A taped ship-to-shore call, which took place 30 minutes after the liner hit a rock, showed how senior officers on board were slow to act and initially denied there was anything seriously wrong.
The crew member was recorded telling the coastguard that the ship had suffered a power outage and said there was no emergency on board.
By then, many of the 4,200 passengers and crew had called relatives on their mobile phones asking them to alert the police, who in turn asked the coastguard to check on the state of the ship.