Italian capt. may have tried sea ‘flyby’
GIGLIO, Italy, Jan. 16 (UPI) —
The shipwrecked Costa Concordia’s captain may have knowingly steered close to a rocky shore to greet someone on the Italian island of Giglio, prosecutors say.
Capt. Francesco Schettino, 52, of Naples, Italy, appears to have wanted to perform the nautical equivalent of a flyby past the island’s main port near the Tuscany coast to salute a colleague or retired colleague, perhaps from the Italian merchant navy, prosecutors told Italian state TV.
At least six people were killed when the cruise ship carrying 4,212 people hit a reef that tore a 160-foot gash in the hull, causing the $567 million, 952-foot-long, 114,500-ton ship to list violently and then capsize, just as a late-seating dinner had begun about 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Fifteen people — 11 passengers, including two Americans, and six crew members — were still unaccounted for early Monday.
The U.S. State Department said 120 Americans had been on board.
Two elderly men, one from Spain and the other from Italy, found dead in the vessel Sunday were both wearing life jackets, officials said.
Ship owner Costa Crociere SpA — known in the United States as Costa Cruises, owned by giant U.S.-British cruise ship operator Carnival Corp. — said Sunday night Schettino may have been guilty of significant human error in navigating dangerously close to the shoreline.
The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency, the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures, the statement said.
Schettino was accused by prosecutors of abandoning ship well before the last of his passengers, a criminal offense that can carry a 12-year prison sentence.
Schettino, who has not been charged, denied this before he was detained by authorities, insisting he was the last to leave.
He also told RAI Italian TV the reef was not on his navigation charts.
The 5 1/2-year-old ship struck a well-known rock formation known as Le Scole that skirts the Giglio coast after taking a detour from its usual route about 2 hours into the trip, prosecutors said.
Passengers said they were told they would get an up-close view of Giglio’s port town by night, Italian officials said.
The ship may have sailed only 150 yards from the shore, prosecutor Francesco Verusio told RAI, adding his team was examining satellite images to determine the vessel’s exact course.
Islanders were quoted by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph as saying they had never seen the ship try to pass so close before. Ships usually pass by up to 5 miles away, they said.
The ship’s black box navigation system was being examined, investigators and Costa Crociere said.
At a Sunday mass at the Giglio Porto church, the Rev. Don Lorenzo placed a life jacket, rope and rescue helmet on the altar to honor the dead and missing.
Giglio will no longer be the same, The New York Times quoted him as saying. Let us all pray together now for our souls.
The ship remained lying flat on its starboard side, partly submerged in the shallow waters off the Giglio coast, with the gash in its upturned hull poking out of the water.