Captain is accused of abandoning sinking ship

THE captain of the Costa Concordia has insisted that the rocks on which the luxury cruise liner crashed were not on his nautical chart, as investigations continued into the cause of the maritime disaster.

Captain Francesco Schettino defended his actions as the death toll rose to five after search teams recovered two more bodies from the capsized vessel.

But, with 15 people still missing, rescuers last night reported hearing sounds from possible survivors still trapped in the vast cruise ship. In his first statement since his ship ran aground on Friday night, Captain Schettino told Italian television that the rocks which ripped a 160ft hole in the hull should not have been there.

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He said: “I don’t know if it was detected or not, but on the nautical chart it was marked just as water and some 100-150 metres from the rocks, and we were about 300 metres from the shore, more or less. We shouldn’t have had this contact.”

The captain, who has been accused of abandoning his ship before midnight on Friday, leaving behind trapped passengers, also insisted: “I was the last person off the ship.”

However, yesterday, 36 hours after the disaster began, one of his crewmen was winched off suffering from a broken leg.

A South Korean couple, who were on their honeymoon, were rescued late on Saturday night.

The coastguard has said the bodies of two elderly passengers were found by divers in a section of the submerged restaurant. Another 30 people were said to be injured, two seriously.

Yesterday Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that all the Britons on board – 23 passengers and 12 crew – were safe and well and being helped by officials to return home.

Mr Hague said: “We can say now, on the basis of the information available to us, that all the British nationals involved are accounted for and are safe. They have been through a very dreadful and distressing experience”

Last night, Italian news reports said that investigators were working on the theory that the Concordia had sailed close to Giglio in order to “salute” an officer from the Italian Merchant Navy who was friendly with officers on the cruise ship.

They said that investigators had also “identified” the officer whom the “salute” was aimed at and he was due to be questioned as part of the inquiry – although no immediate confirmation of this was immediately available.

Meanwhile, Captain Schettino’s lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said: “My client understands the reasons why he has been detained, but as his legal representative I would like to say that several hundred people owe their lives to the skill of the commander of the Costa Concordia.”