Bloomberg News

Italian Captain Ignored Order to Return; More Victims Found

January 23, 2012

(Updates with house arrest in seventh paragraph. Quote from Costa CEO in 15th. See EXT2 for a special report on the disaster.)

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The captain of a Carnival Corp. ship that ran aground off Italy ignored orders to return to the vessel to lead rescue operations, according to recordings released today. Divers discovered five more bodies on the cruise liner today.

Captain Francesco Schettino was repeatedly ordered by a Coast Guard official to get back on the cruise liner after saying he had left the ship hours after running into a reef off the island of Giglio, ripping a hole in the hull, according to audio of telephone conversations posted on the website of newspaper Corriere della Sera. Schettino initially told the official that only 40 people remained onboard at a time when hundreds were still trying to get off the damaged ship.

“There are people climbing down a rope ladder on the bow of the ship. Take a lifeboat and climb up that ladder and climb up onto the ship and tell me how many people are there,” Coast Guard Commander Gregorio Maria De Falco, speaking from the city of Livorno on the Italian mainland, told Schettino, according to the tape. “Tell me if there are women, children and people in need there.”

When the captain hesitated to reply, De Falco said there were fatalities and again ordered him to return. “You realize it’s dark and we can’t see anything?” Schettino said, adding that “other rescue workers” were now in place.

“You’ve been telling me that for an hour, now get back on board!” the Coast Guard official shouted.

House Arrest

Schettino didn’t return and took a taxi on Giglio before being arrested, media including Sky TG24 said.

Schettino, who may face charges of manslaughter and abandoning the Costa Concordia when passengers were still on board was granted house arrest today, by the judge hearing the case after three hours of testimony in Grosseto, Italy, Schettino’s lawyer Bruno Leporatti told journalists in remarks broadcast on Sky TG24. Prosecutor Francesco Verusio had requested that Schettino be held in jail as a flight risk, rather than be permitted to return to his home in Sorrento, Italy.

The captain is “shattered, dismayed, saddened for the loss of lives and strongly disturbed,” Leporatti said in a statement yesterday.

More Victims

Rescue workers discovered five more bodies on the ship today, said Stefano Giannelli, a spokesman for the fire department at the scene. The number of missing now stands at 23 after a German passenger was identified in Germany, rescue officials said today. Authorities today released a list of those still unaccounted for.

Carnival shares fell as much as 15 percent today to $29.22, the biggest decline since the first day of trading after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York in 2001.

Schettino, who joined the company in 2002, was promoted to captain in 2006 and never had a prior accident, according to Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman of Carnival’s Italian unit, Costa Crociere SpA.

The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 people when it ran aground hours after leaving a port near Rome to continue a Mediterranean cruise. The ship’s route was set electronically before it left Rome, and shouldn’t have been so close to the Giglio island, Foschi said at a press conference in Genoa yesterday.

Route Programmed

“The route had been properly programmed in Civitavecchia,” Foschi said. “The fact that the ship strayed from that course can only be due to a maneuver that was not approved, not authorized nor communicated to Costa Crociere by the captain of the ship.”

Schettino may have steered the boat closer to Giglio to give passengers a better view of the Tuscan island, Foschi said.

Foschi visited the island today and met with survivors, crew members and rescue workers. He said he was touched by the stories of people on the ship, but that the accident didn’t reflect any safety issues with Costa ships.

“Our ships are safe just as they were on Friday,” he said from Giglio, where the Concordia partially sunk after hitting rocks. “It has nothing to do with security at sea nor does it have anything to do with our policy, training or the quality of our personnel.”

Climbing to Safety

The captain didn’t give the evacuation order until just before the Costa Concordia began listing, making it impossible to lower many of the lifeboats, passengers on the ship said. Video released late yesterday of the rescue operation showed hundreds of passengers clamoring along the side of the ship to reach ladders that led down to water, where they were loaded onto rescue boats.

Giglio, an island of 1,500 inhabitants in winter that relies on fishing and tourism, is located about 14 miles from the Tuscan coast. Giglio lies within the “Santuario dei Cetacei,” an area of roughly 33,784 square kilometers that in 1999 was declared by the governments of France, Italy and Monaco a sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.

Smit Salvage, a unit of Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, contracted by Costa Crociere to remove the ship’s 2,400 tons of oil, is ready to begin inspecting the vessel as soon as tomorrow. The company will need two to four weeks to take the fuel off the ship, executives said on a conference call today.

“The vessel is stable and we feel confident that removal can be done in a fairly rapid way,” Kees van Essen, Smit’s manager of operations, said during the call. There have been no leaks so far and salvage operations don’t increase the chance of leaks, he said.

Weather conditions in the area, which have been calm since the accident, are forecast to deteriorate after Jan. 19.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini said today that the pumping of the fuel won’t begin until the search rescue operation is completed. Clini, who said this week he was concerned about the threat of an environmental disaster, will testify in parliament tomorrow at 4 p.m. on the salvage operation.

--With assistance from Marco Bertacche in Milan. Editors: Andrew Davis, John Simpson

To contact the reporter on this story: Chiara Vasarri in Milan at cvasarri@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at jcolten@bloomberg.net


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