The captain of the Costa Concordia was ordered by the coastguard to return to the stricken ship after claiming that the evacuation was almost complete when it had scarcely begun, according to transcripts of radio calls and telephone conversations published on Tuesday.
The transcripts indicate that Captain Francesco Schettino said he was going to return to the vessel. But two Italian newspapers, which published the transcripts, said that he instead walked from the rocks where the liner had come to rest to the port of Giglio and there caught a taxi to take him away from the scene of the disaster.
A witness who boarded the cruise ship Costa Concordia after it grounded has added damning claims about the behaviour of the captain of the vessel. Mario Pellegrini, the deputy mayor of Giglio, said he boarded the stranded vessel at about 11pm.
“I then remained on board until 5am helping passengers leave. Although I asked for the officers I couldn’t find one – and I never once saw the captain,” he told The Guardian.
A regional parliamentarian who visited Schettino in the jail where he is being held quoted him as saying: “The voice of my conscience cries out the loudest of all.”
One of the newspapers, Corriere della Sera, said the crew began preparing the lifeboats 13 minutes before the order was given to abandon ship. It described the action, by some of Schettino’s officers, as “a kind of mutiny”.
On Monday, the chief executive of the cruise company operating the vessel praised the crew at a press conference in which he placed the blame firmly on the captain. But Pellegrini said: “The crew, many of whom did not speak English, were not professional.” He said the only officer he found on board who was helping passengers escape was a ship’s doctor.
After hitting a rock off the coast of Giglio last Friday night, the Costa Concordia continued past the port as Schettino turned it around and brought it to rest on a headland known as Punta Gabbianara. According to the transcripts, there, at 21.49, he was radioed by the harbourmaster’s office in Livorno, which is a regional headquarters of the coastguard.
“Everything OK?” he was asked.
“Affirmative,” came the reply. The coastguard was told the liner had suffered a “small technical failure”.
Five minutes later, the coastguard radioed the bridge again. The second newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, which did not provide a source for its information, said that in the meantime the harbourmaster’s office had been told by the semi-militarised Carabinieri police of a call from a passenger aboard the Costa Concordia talking about a shipwreck.
This time, the coastguard asked not only if the vessel was in trouble, but also what was its position.
“We’ve only got a technical problem and we’re not able to [give the position],” came the reply. “But as soon as it’s resolved, we’ll communicate [it] to you.”
Thereafter, all radio calls to the stricken liner went unanswered. But at 00.32 the coastguard managed to contact Schettino by telephone.
By then, the evacuation had been under way for only about 40 minutes. The captain was asked how many people were still aboard.
“Two, three hundred,” he replied.
Ten minutes later, the coastguard rang him again. By then, said Il Fatto quoting a local fire brigade commander, Schettino had left his ship and was on the rocks at Punta Gabbianara.
He was again asked how many people were still aboard.
“I’ve called the ship owners, and they tell me that about 40 people are missing,” he replied.
“So few? How is that possible?” asked the coastguard, before adding: “But you’re on board?”
“No. I’m not on board because the bows of the ship are coming up. We’ve abandoned her.”
“What do you mean? You’ve abandoned ship?”
“No. No way have I abandoned ship. I’m here,” Schettino replied.
Ufficiale: «Adesso lei va a prua, risale la biscaggina (la scala di corda delle navi) e coordina l’evacuazione. Ci dice quante persone ci sono ancora: se ci sono bambini, donne, passeggeri e il numero esatto di ciascuna di queste categorie. Vada a bordo. Cosa fa, lascia i soccorsi?».
Schettino: «No, no, sono qua, sto coordinando i soccorsi».
Ufficiale: «Comandante, è un ordine, ora comando io. Lei ha dichiarato l’abbandono nave, vada a prua, risalga sulla nave e vada a coordinare i soccorsi. Ci sono già dei cadaveri».
Ufficiale: «Deve dirmelo lei, cosa vuole fare, vuole andare a casa? Lei ora torna sopra e ci dice cosa si può fare, quante persone ci sono e di cos’hanno bisogno».
Schettino: «Va bene, sto andando».
The final, and most dramatic call, took place at 1.46am when, after confirming that he was speaking to the captain, a coastguard officer told him: “Right. You are now going back on board. You are going to go back up the rope ladder, return to the bridge and co-ordinate operations.”
There followed a long silence, Il Fatto reported.
“You must tell me how many people there are,” the coastguard officer continued. “How many passengers, women and children – and co-ordinate the rescue.”
Schettino protested that he was on hand.
“Captain,” said the coastguard officer, cutting across him. “This is an order. Now I am in command. You have declared the abandoning of a ship and are going to co-ordinate the rescue from the bridge. There are already dead bodies.”
“How many?” asked Schettino.
“You’re the one who should be telling me that,” came the reply. “What do you want to do? Go home? Now, go back up and tell me what can be done: how many people there are and what they need.”
“Alright,” said Schettino. “I’m going.”