A row has broken out between Spiegel Online and Italian weekly Il Giornale after the German publication said "it was hardly surprising" that an Italian was behind the Costa Concordia disaster.
In a column Jan Fleischhauer wrote: “Is anyone astonished by the fact that the Captain of the Costa Concordia is Italian? It would be difficult to imagine a German or even a British Captain doing a similar manoeuvre and then fleeing."
A report in Il Giornale said that Fleischhauer wrote: “We Germans, don’t let certain things happen, because unlike the Italians we are a [proper] race.”
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Fleischhauer said that specific line was "totally made up by the Il Giornale".
"I would never write that kind of rubbish. The guy from Il Giornale just made it up, I guess to make his story more 'juicy.'"
Regardless, the reaction to Fleischhauer's column has veered between reserved irritation and an outright war of words in Italy. The Ambassador of the Republic of Italy, Michele Valensise sent a response to the article, which Spiegel Online have published:
"In the article by Jan Fleischhauer, entitled 'Italian-run driver' I am surprised and annoyed. Of course I believe in freedom of criticism, but the themes of this article are also insulting to Italy as unfounded. It amazes me that a reputable newspaper like Spiegel Online provides space for so vulgar and banal assertions."
But Allesandro Sallusti, editor-in-chief of Il Giornale, the Berlusconi-owned publication, reacted virulently to the accusations with the headline "We may have Schettino but you have Auschwitz.”
The headline was published on 27 January, which is also National Holocaust Memorial Day. Despite this, Sallusti deepens the comparison, continuing in the editorial:
“We already read in Hitler’s speeches that the Germans are a superior race. But reminding us today, during the Holocaust Remembrance Day, is in bad taste. It is true, we Italians are guilty of 30 passenger deaths because of Schettino. You Germans killed six million.
"And no one from the superior German race saved any one of them. Unlike us, who saved 4,200 [the number of the passengers on the boat]. And hundreds of thousands Jews during the Holocaust.
"It is true, us Italians we are like this, inclined not to respect the law, be it the naval or the racial one. The Germans in the contrary are better at that. We saw them in action in our cities obeying the orders of shooting at women and children, often in the back.
"Their superiority and cleverness was at the origin of two World Wars, which have destroyed Europe, twice. They are bragging, but it is only in September 2011 that they finished paying the compensations they owed for WWI.
"It took them 92 years, and in the meantime we helped them first to defend themselves from the USSR, and later to pay the bill of Germany’s unification"
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Fleischhauer described Sallusti’s comparison between the Costa Concordia and the Holocaust as “a little strong don’t you think?”
“My advice to Mr Sallusti would be, to avoid those kind of comparisons in the future, they always get you in trouble. Serenity is obviously not their strongest suit. But we don't want to dabble in stereotypes again, do we?
In Germany, he said that the piece was much less controversial.
“Most readers got it right, I think. I just was making fun of the fact that we all rely on generalisations, it's just a way to get through life.”
Italians have condemned Sallusti on social networks, with one Twitter user declaring himself “ashamed” of the article. Another sworn she was “in disbelief” and a number of people have declared the response “disgusting."
Francesco Schettino has been dubbed Captain Coward by the British media, after conflicting reports of what happened on the night the cruise liner ran aground have emerged, painting Schettino in a less than heroic light. Audio tapes of Schettino talking to Italian coastguard Gregory De Falco after he had abandoned the ship show the Captain's reluctance to return the Costa Concordia
Captain 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.
Francesco Schettino is currently under house arrest awaiting to appear in court charged with causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship and multiple counts of manslaughter. The disaster has claimed 16 lives while 16 people are still said to be missing.