Cruise ship sinking: Costa chiefs ‘insisted’ on traditional sail-by salute, claims captain

A diver prepares to go down to search the cruise ship. Photo: Getty
A diver prepares to go down to search the cruise ship. Photo: Getty
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CRUISE ship captain Francesco Schettino has claimed that his bosses knew about the tradition of “sail-by salutes” and that he was asked to do them for publicity stunts.

According to details of his questioning leaked to the Italian media yesterday Schettino, 52, said that Costa Cruises “knew about the regular practice” of sailing close by islands and it was carried out “all around the world.’’

Divers yesterday pulled a woman’s body from the capsized Costa Concordia, raising to 13 the number of dead in the 13 January accident. An official said the victim was wearing a life vest and was found in the rear of a submerged portion of a ship by a team of fire department divers.

Before the body was found, there were at least 20 people missing. Earlier, Italian officials said it was possible that unregistered passengers had been aboard. Only eight of the bodies so far found have been identified.

Schettino told prosecutors and the investigating judge who questioned him last week that the company planned the salutes to time with local public holidays on the islands they were due to cruise past.

The captain’s latest claims were a direct contradiction of what Costa chief Pierluigi Foschi said last week at a press conference where he said a “sail by had been authorised just once before” in the summer of 2010 off the island of Procida, close to Naples.

His version of events in the 135-page judicial document raises questions over what Costa Cruises knew on the night of the disaster and may explain why Schettino waited for more than an hour to raise the alarm and why he made a series of phone calls to company chiefs at their headquarters in Genoa.

They have always insisted that he had “lied to them” over the incident and that he made a “serious error of judgment” in sailing so close past Giglio. Schettino said: “The salute to Giglio was arranged and wanted by Costa before we left Civitavecchia [port of departure]. It was for publicity reasons. We have carried out those sail by salutes all over the world – Sorrento, Capri. I have sailed past Giglio other times – when I was captain of Costa Europa.’’

He added: “The sail past Giglio had been advertised in the daily ship newsletter – we should have done it the week before, but we couldn’t because the weather had been bad. They insisted. They said: ‘We can be seen and we can get some publicity’, so I said: ‘OK.’ The plan was that we should have been around half a nautical mile off the coast, but in the end we were 0.28 of a nautical mile away.”

Schettino also told judge Valeria Montesarchio how he called Costa operations manager Roberto Ferrarini the night of the disaster and told him that he intended to turn the boat around and sail towards the port of Giglio and try and beach the ship.

He said: “Ferrarini said to me: ‘Yes… do that’, then when the ship had grounded and we spoke again, he said: ‘At this point… more than this… we won’t sink anymore,’ although more than 300 passengers and crew were still on board and needed to be evacuated. A spokesman for Costa Cruises said: “We will not be commenting on any aspect of the ongoing investigation.”

Schettino also revealed in his testimony how the lifeboat taking him to safety had smashed into frantic passengers who were fighting for their lives in the water after jumping from the cruise ship. He said: “We picked up some survivors from the water in our boat. We used the lifeboats from the ship. These are single engine and are not good for manoeuvring. One or two we even hit.

“The recovery of survivors from the water should have been carried out by the coastguard boats, but they were just at the front and back of the Concordia. I said: ‘Why don’t you send those boats instead of keeping them stationary?’ I told them this. It’s even somewhere on tape.”

He added: “Me a chicken? Me someone who ran away? That night I didn’t even have a life jacket on – because that night my life wasn’t worth anything any more.’’