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Captain in Court on Allegations of Abandoning Italian Cruise Ship

ENZO RUSSO/AFP/Getty Images(GIGLIO, Italy) -- Italian prosecutors Tuesday morning are pushing hard to put the captain of the sinking Italian cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, on trial and behind bars, building a case that his behavior was reckless, cowardly, and deadly.

Capt. Francesco Schettino, 52, was brought to court Tuesday morning after being in custody since Saturday on allegations of manslaughter and abandoning the ship.

The luxury cruise ship was carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew when it struck rocks Friday evening near Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany.  Rescue efforts have been ongoing, but as of Tuesday morning, at least two dozen people remained unaccounted for, and at least 11 people were killed in the wreck's aftermath, according to Italian media.

Italian prosecutors said there's growing evidence Schettino was responsible for the accident, and then failed to protect his passengers.  According to a published account by a cook onboard, a full half hour after the incident, Schettino was still asking for his dinner and drinks and reportedly demanded to know where his female companion's dessert was.

Schettino has claimed the ship hit uncharted rocks and that he acted honorably, telling reporters he and his crew were the last to leave.  But that's not true, according to an Italian newspaper account of a port authority radio transmission to the captain.

[CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE RADIO TRANSMISSION (IN ITALIAN)]

"Captain, this is an order, now I am in charge.  Get back on that ship and coordinate the operations.  There are already casualties," the port authority official reportedly told Schettino.

"How many?" the captain responded.

"You should tell me that!  What do you want to do, go home?  Now you get back on that ship and tell us what can be done, how many people are still there and what do they need," the port authority official said.

"OK, OK, I am going," Schettino said.

As a captain for the Costa line since 2006, the year the Concordia was launched, the dark-haired, debonair Schettino was described as a favorite with passengers, especially women.  But if it is true that he and other officers fled the ship, leaving passengers behind, it would be a clear violation of what is regarded as the first law of the sea.

"The captain is the last person to leave the sinking ship," veteran cruise ship commander Capt. William Wright told ABC News.  "I find it very hard to understand how any captain under such dire circumstances would elect to leave his vessel."

The Costa line said the captain was wrong to steer so close to the island, although this video from Italian TV is said to show the Concordia, horns blaring one night last August, sailing within a few hundred feet of the island -- a course the Costa line says was authorized and approved in advance.

Prosecutors, however, said Schettino went beyond authorized procedure and was a reckless show-boater.

"You want to screen out the risk takers," marine legal expert John Hickey said.  "You want to screen out the hot doggers.  You want to screen out people who are not willing to take responsibility." 

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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