- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2012

GIGLIO, ITALY (AP) — Maritime authorities, passengers and mounting evidence pointed Sunday toward the captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off Tuscany, amid accusations that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated and was showing off when he steered the vessel far too close to shore.

Divers searching the murky depths of the partially submerged Costa Concordia found the bodies of two elderly men still in their life jackets, bringing the confirmed death toll to five. At least 15 people were still missing, including two Americans.

The recovered bodies were discovered at an emergency gathering point near the restaurant where many of the 4,200 on board were dining when the luxury liner struck rocks or a reef off the tiny island of Giglio.

Still, there were glimmers of hope: The rescue of three survivors - a young South Korean couple on their honeymoon and a crew member brought to shore in a dramatic airlift some 36 hours after the grounding late Friday.

Meanwhile, attention focused on the captain, who was spotted by coast guard officials and passengers fleeing the scene even as the chaotic and terrifying evacuation was under way. The ship’s Italian owner, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, issued a statement late Sunday saying there appeared to be “significant human error” on the part of Francesco Schettino, “which resulted in these grave consequences.”

Authorities were holding Capt. Schettino on suspicion of manslaughter and a prosecutor confirmed Sunday they were also investigating claims he abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had escaped. Italian navigation code says a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.

A French couple who boarded the Concordia in Marseille, Ophelie Gondelle and David Du Pays, told the Associated Press they saw the captain in a lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off the ship.

“The commander left before and was on the dock before everyone was off,” said Ms. Gondelle, 28, a French military officer.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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