Stricken cruise liner captain DID abandon ship 'half an hour before passengers' AND refused to go back when ordered
- Francesco Schettino to appear before judge today
- Arrested on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship
- Ignored order from coastguard to return to ship
- 'Offered to return to doomed cruise liner, but only to collect black box'
- 'Seen wrapped in a blanket on way to shore' 30 minutes before order to evacuate was given
- Seventh person was found dead in shipwrecked vessel, rescuers say this morning
- 35 Britons on board reported safe and well, more than 60 people injured, 29 still missing
- Reports Schettino was dining with passengers when the accident happened
The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter
The Costa Concordia's captain did abandon ship 'half an hour' before hundreds of his passengers, it emerged this morning via a transcript of a conversation between him and the local coastguard.
Francesco Schettino, who will be questioned today by investigating magistrate Valeria Montesarchio, lied to the Captain of the Port of Livorno's Coastguard when asked how many people were on board the sinking liner, Italian media reported today.
He initially replied '40', when there were actually hundreds still at risk, and when further questioned admitted he was not even there.
He then ignored an order to go back onto the sinking ship - with some reports suggesting he volunteered to return, but only to pick up the black box.
Il Fatto Quotidiano published the transcripts of the conversation which purportedly took place on Friday night.
The first call to the boat took place at 9.49pm, where the coastguard asked what the situation was. The boat had run aground some 30 minutes before.
They did not speak again until 0.42am, just 40 minutes after the evacuation started, when Schettino was asked how many people were on board.
He replied '40'. The coastguard, surprised, asked how there were so few people left on board, and Schettino replied: 'I'm not on board because we have abandoned the ship.'
The coastguard asked him to return to the ship to co-ordinate the evacuation.
At 1.46am, Schettino received another call. The speaker said: 'You will return to the boat immediately. You have to tell me how many passengers are left.'
Confusingly, the captain replied: 'I'm on board, but I'm here.' The coastguard, who Italian media says understood he had no intention of returning, issued an ultimatum.
He said: 'Captain, this is an order. I am in charge now. There are dead bodies.'
The publication of the transcript comes as Schettino was labelled the 'most hated man in Italy'. And it precedes the revelation, from a survivor, that men pushed past children who were screaming 'I don't want to die' as the young and elderly were 'abandoned by the crew'.
The 52-year-old, who lives with wife Fabiola and their 15-year-old daughter at a £175,000 apartment in the small seaside town of Meta di Sorrento near Naples, is at the centre of a Facebook hate campaign after being squarely blamed for the cruise liner running aground.
Thousands have taken to the web to vent their fury at the so-called ‘Captain Coward’, who it is now claimed ‘skimmed’ past the Tuscan isle of Giglio not just to salute a retired officer but also to impress his head waiter’s family on shore.
Many scorned his decision not to remain with his stricken ship. The official death toll rose to seven this morning after another body was pulled from the tilting wreckage. Last night the number of those still unaccounted for rose to 29 – 25 passengers and four crew.
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Schettino, who faces up to 12 years in jail for manslaughter, will appear in court today after his company chiefs accused him of an ‘unauthorised and unapproved’ decision to sail so close to the eastern side of the island of Giglio.
The £400million liner, with 4,200 passengers and crew, was sailing just 300 yards from the island’s rocky coast when it should have been at least four miles out to sea. It came to grief on Friday night after sustaining a 160ft gash in the port-side hull.
After swiftly escaping from the listing liner, Schettino – the Concordia’s skipper for six years – was arrested along with first officer Ciro Ambrosio.
The captain was spotted wrapped in a blanket on his way to the shore at around 11.30pm – more than four hours before the evacuation of the vessel was completed - and breaking the maritime tradition of remaining with his ship.