Captain defied order to return to crippled ship, audiotape reveals

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ROME — An Italian coast guard official vehemently demanded that the captain go back to his crippled cruise ship to oversee its evacuation, but the captain repeatedly resisted, according to an audiotape made public Tuesday.

Prosecutors have accused Capt. 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.

The death toll nearly doubled to 11 Tuesday, when divers recovered five more bodies from the wrecked ship.

All were adults wearing life jackets and were found in the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point, according to Italian coast guard Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro. He said they were thought to have been passengers.

Before that discovery, the coast guard had raised the number of missing to 25 passengers and four crew. Italian officials gave the breakdown as 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian.

The Costa Concordia was carrying at least 4,200 people when it hit a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio. Capt. Schettino had made an unauthorized deviation from the cruise ship’s programmed course, apparently as a favor to his chief waiter, who hailed from the island.

Capt. 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 Capt. 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?” Capt. De Falco shouted in the audio tape.

Capt. Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and it was dark. At the time, he and his second-in-command were in a lifeboat. 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.

Capt. 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.”

At one point, Capt. 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]!”

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

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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