Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that run aground off the tiny Island of Giglio last Friday Alessandro La Rocca/AP/Press Association Images

Italian captain being placed under house arrest

The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner has left jail and been placed under house arrest tonight – as the official death toll from the tragedy rises to 11.

THE CAPTAIN OF the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which ran aground off the tiny Island of Giglio last Friday, has been allowed to leave jail and instead be placed under house arrest this evening.

Prosecutors have accused Captain Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his vessel before all passengers were evacuated during the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the Tuscan coast on Friday night.

After Schettino was interrogated by prosecutors for three hours Tuesday, a judge in Grosseto, Tuscany, ruled that the captain, who had been detained a few hours after he allegedly abandoned the Concordia, should be released from jail and confined to his home near Naples under house arrest, his lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told reporters outside the courthouse.

Prosecutors wanted him kept in Grosseto’s prison, and Leporatti had asked that he be freed.

The death toll from the tragedy nearly doubled to 11 on Tuesday when divers extracted the bodies of four men and one woman from the ship’s wreckage. The victims were in their 50s or 60s and each wore the orange vest that passengers use, indicating they were apparently passengers and not crew members, said a Coast Guard spokesman, Cmdr. Filippo Marini. Their nationalities were not immediately determined.

Prior to that grim finding, the coast guard had raised the number of missing to 25 passengers and four crew members. Italian officials gave the breakdown as 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian. But there was still confusion over the numbers, with the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin listing 12 Germans as confirmed missing.

In shocking audiotape made public today, an Italian coastguard official is heard vehemently demanding that the captain go back to his crippled cruise ship to oversee its evacuation – but the captain repeatedly resisted.

The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 people when it hit a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorised deviation from the cruise ship’s programmed course, apparently as a favour to his chief waiter, who hailed from the island.


Schettino has insisted that he stayed aboard until the ship was evacuated. However, a recording of his conversation with Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco indicates he fled before all passengers were off — and then resisted De Falco’s repeated orders to return.

“You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?” De Falco shouted in the audio tape.

Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and it was dark. At the time, he and his second-in-command were in a lifeboat and the captain said he was coordinating the rescue from there. He also said he was not going back aboard the ship “because the other lifeboat is stopped.” Passengers have said many lifeboats on the exposed port side of the ship didn’t winch down after the ship had capsized.

De Falco shouted back: “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

“You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘Abandon ship,’ now I am in charge,” De Falco shouted.

At one point, De Falco vowed: “I’m going to make sure you get in trouble. … I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, (expletive)!”

Schettino was finally heard on the tape agreeing to reboard. But the coast guard has said he never went back, and had police arrest him on land.

Schettino could face 12 years in prison

The 52-year-old Schettino, described by the Italian media as a genial, tanned ship’s officer, has worked for 11 years for the ship’s owner and was made captain in 2006. He hails from Meta di Sorrento, in the Naples area, which produces many of Italy’s ferry and cruise boat captains. He attended the Nino Bixio merchant marine school near Sorrento.

Schettino recounted his version of events before prosecutors and the judge at Tuesday’s hearing in Grosseto to decide whether he should remain jailed.

The captain could face up to 12 years in prison on the abandoning ship charge alone.

Leporatti told the hearing the captain had insisted that after the initial crash into the reefs he had maneuvered the ship close to shore in a way that “saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.”

Passengers, however, described the evacuation as chaotic.

Steve and Kathy Ledtke, who live in Fort Gratiot, Michigan, said they were sitting down to a late dinner Friday when they realised something had gone wrong. Kathy Ledtke told WDIV-TV that it seemed no one was in charge.

“It was complete chaos and it was every man for himself,” Kathy Ledtke said. “Nobody knew where to go.”

Earlier Tuesday, Italian naval divers exploded holes in the hull of the grounded cruise ship, trying to speed up the search for the missing while seas were still calm. Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TV 24 the holes would help divers enter the wreck more easily.

“We are rushing against time,” he said.

The divers set four microcharges above and below the surface of the water, Busonero said. Video showed one hole above the waterline less than two meters in diameter.

Mediterranean waters in the area were relatively calm Tuesday with waves of just 30 centimeters but they were expected to reach nearly 1.8 meters Wednesday, according to meteorological forecasts.

A Dutch shipwreck salvage firm, meanwhile, said it would take its engineers and divers two to four weeks to extract the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship. The safe removal of the fuel has become a priority second only to finding the missing, as the wreckage site lies in a maritime sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.

Read: Five more bodies found in Costa Concordia>

Associated Foreign Press
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