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Captain Francesco Schettino (C) of cruise ship Costa Concordia is escorted into a prison by police officers at Grosseto, after being questioned by magistrates. (STAFF/Reuters)
Captain Francesco Schettino (C) of cruise ship Costa Concordia is escorted into a prison by police officers at Grosseto, after being questioned by magistrates. (STAFF/Reuters)

Captain of Costa Concordia refused orders to reboard Add to ...

On a day when five more bodies were pulled from the Costa Concordia cruise ship, an extraordinary audio recording revealed its captain’s bizarre behaviour in the hours following the Italian shipwreck.

The shouting match between Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, and Captain Gregorio de Falco of the Italian coast guard station in Livorno, about 100 kilometres north of Friday evening’s Tuscan coast shipwreck, revealed Capt. Schettino’s strange excuses to avoid assisting the ship’s evacuation.

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“Get back on board!” Capt. De Falco yelled at the evasive captain.

The Costa Concordia hit the rocks off the small Tuscan island of Giglio at 9:42 p.m. Friday, after the ship apparently deviated from its normal course. It hit the granite rocks close to the island’s outer flank and keeled over. Several reports said that Capt. Schettino went unusually close to Giglio to “salute” the island home of his head waiter.

While many passengers remained aboard hours after the 114,000-ton Costa Concordia turned nearly horizontal, Mr. Schettino ignored Capt. De Falco’s orders to return to the ship, which had been carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew.

In the recording, made shortly after midnight Friday, a clearly exasperated Capt. De Falco shouts at Capt. Schettino: “You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?”

Capt. Schettino makes a string of unlikely excuses. He says the “the boat is tipping,” then that another lifeboat is in the way, interfering with his own return. “I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped,” he tells Capt. De Falco.

Moments later, Capt. Schettino asks, “How many bodies are there?”

Capt. De Falco, apparently shocked by the question, screams back: “I don’t know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ.”

Capt. Schettino then makes another excuse: “But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see a thing.”

Capt. Schettino, 52, made a brief appearance in court yesterday in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, where he was detained without bail. He has not been formally charged, but faces criminal charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the passengers were evacuated.

Through his Italian lawyer, Capt. Schettino maintained his innocence Tuesday. The lawyer insisted that the ship hit uncharted rocks and that Capt. Schettino’s U-turn after the collision, which brought the ship as close as possible to the Giglio island, saved “hundreds, if not thousands of lives.” The cruise company that owns the Costa Concordia, Carnival Corp. of Miami, is blaming Capt. Schettino for the disaster, saying he deviated from the safe course plotted before the voyage, which had started in Civitavecchia, a port city just north of Rome.

The five bodies found Tuesday in the $450-million (U.S.) Costa Concordia brings the death toll to at least 11, leaving 24 passengers still missing (some reports put the number at 25) and four crew. The missing include 14 Germans, six Italian, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Peruvian and one Indian.

All of the dozen Canadians on board survived and were taken to the Canadian embassy in Rome over the weekend, where they were given new passports and financial assistance so they could return home.

The five bodies recovered Tuesday were found shortly after dawn, after several holes were blasted into the side of the stern to give rescue workers better access to any trapped survivors.

All of the five deceased, whose ages ranged between 50 and 60, were wearing life jackets. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

By nightfall – four full days after the wreck – the hope of finding more survivors had all but faded as the ship sank slightly lower in the water and temperatures dropped.

Italians were dumbfounded by the apparent display of cowardice or incompetence, or both, by Capt. Schettino’s decision to abandon the ship as much as four hours before the evacuation was complete.

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