Costa Concordia Tragedy: Captain Francesco Schettino Placed Under House Arrest (AUDIO) (PICTURES)

Francesco Schettino

First Posted: 18/01/12 06:19 Updated: 18/01/12 15:05   PA

The captain of a cruise liner that crashed into rocks off Italy has been placed under house arrest following a court appearance.

Prosecutors have accused Captain Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship while passengers were still stranded.

The death toll from Friday's Costa Concordia disaster rose to 11 yesterday as five more bodies were discovered, with some two dozen still unaccounted for.

As the search for the missing continued, Italian media published a recording of a conversation between Schettino and the port authorities in which the captain was ordered not to abandon his stricken ship after it hit rocks.

Schettino had begun by claiming everything was fine, shortly before the ship keeled over off the Tuscan coast with 4,200 on board, according to the timings of the recording.

At 9.49pm he was asked by a port official over the ship radio: "Concordia, is everything OK?"
The response from the ship was "positive", Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

But five minutes later the operations room at Livorno port was said to have contacted the liner again after a passenger had allegedly reported a problem and mentioned the word "shipwreck".

The inquiry was reportedly again met with the response: "It is just a technical problem."

By 12.42am, the captain was said to have claimed there were only about 40 people missing and said he was not on board.

The recording of his conversation with Italian coastguard Captain Gregorio De Falco indicated his response was met with fury and an order that he return to his ship.

"You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are," Capt De Falco reportedly shouted. "Is that clear?"
But Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and that it was dark. At the time, he was in a lifeboat and said he was co-ordinating the rescue from there.

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 the abandoning of the ship, now I am in charge."
Schettino, 52, was finally heard agreeing to reboard but it was unclear whether he did so.

He could face up to 12 years in prison if found to have abandoned his ship, before any other wrongdoing is taken into account.
Schettino appeared before a judge in Grosseto yesterday, where he was questioned for three hours.

The judge ordered that he be held under house arrest, and Italian media later said he had returned to his home near Naples.

Schettino's lawyer Bruno Leporatti said the captain gave his version of events at the hearing, insisting that after the initial crash into the reefs he had manoeuvred the ship close to shore in a way that "saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives".

Mr Leporatti said urine and hair samples were taken from Schettino, apparently to determine if he might have consumed alcohol or used drugs before the accident.

Schettino insisted in an interview before his jailing that he stayed with the vessel to the end.

But the chairman of Costa Cruises has blamed him for making an unauthorised deviation from the cruise's route so that he could "make a salute".

Pier Luigi Foschi has apologised for the tragedy which has left dozens of people injured and the 114,000-tonne ship lying on its side.
Some 700 people are involved in the recovery operation but hopes of finding anyone alive have been growing slimmer by the hour.
The local police force at Grosseto said it was possible that not all those missing were still at sea however.

Earlier, Italian navy divers set off explosives to create four small openings in the hull of the cruise ship to speed the search for the missing passengers and crew.

The five bodies recovered were all those of adults wearing life jackets and were found in the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point, according to Italian coastguard Commander Cosimo Nicastro.

All were thought to have been passengers.

According to a list of the nationalities of those missing released by Italian officials before the death toll rose, there were 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian still unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, a Dutch shipwreck salvage firm said it will take two to four weeks to extract the 500,000 gallons (1.8 million litres) of fuel aboard the ship.

The company, Smit, said no fuel had leaked and the extraction could begin as early as today.

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Filed by Felicity A Morse  |