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Francesco Schettino arrives at c ourt in Grosseto, Italy, on Dec. 2, 2014, to offer his first court testimony about the 2012 shipwreck off an Italian island that killed 32 people.

GIACOMO APRILI/The Associated Press

The Costa Concordia cruise ship captain gave his first court testimony Tuesday about the 2012 shipwreck off an Italian island that killed 32 people, saying he brought the liner close to shore as a treat to passengers and as a favour to a crewmember.

Francesco Schettino denied taking the route near Giglio island to impress a Moldovan dancer he had brought to the bridge. The woman has testified the two were lovers.

Schettino said: "I wanted to kill three birds with one stone" – pay homage to the island and a retired commander living there, give passengers another experience and do a favour for the maitre d', who was from Giglio.

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Schettino sat hunched behind a table while prosecutors questioned him at a theatre, which has served as a courtroom. He is being tried alone on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship after five other defendants reached plea bargains. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment.

Schettino was granted a request not to have his image, and only his voice, broadcast during his testimony.

His lawyer, Donato Laino, described the defendant as "tense, concentrated."

Schettino said he had previously navigated close to the island, and that it wasn't necessary to inform officials of ship owner Costa Crociere Spa on shore about the altered route since it was considered "an approach" – not a "touristic route."

The ship hit rocks, creating a huge gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of 4,200 passengers as the ship listed.

Schettino's defence says no one died in the collision itself, but the failure of a backup generator and supposedly water-tight compartments that were flooded created problems during the evacuation. He also denies abandoning ship, saying he was thrown into the water.

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