NEWS
20/01/2012 12:47 GMT | Updated 20/01/2012 13:06 GMT

Costa Concordia: Tony Abbott, Australian Opposition Leader, Makes 'Tasteless' Joke About Cruise Liner

Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott has been criticised for making a “tasteless” joke about the Costa Concordia tragedy, which killed 11 people.

Speaking on Triple M radio, Abbot was asked a tongue-in-cheek question about the captain of the stricken liner.

The presenter said: “The captain of the Costa Concordia wants to know if you need any help with your boat policy?”

Abbot replied: “That was one boat that did get stopped,” to laughter in the studio.

Abbott is an ardent supporter of curbing immigration into Australia, and has been especially vocal about the numbers of asylum seekers arriving on the country's shores by boat.

Indeed he even used the slogan “stop the boats” during his 2010 election campaign.

The Government has demanded an apology, although Mr Abbott has accused Labor of “overreacting”, and that “banter is banter”.

He told the Herald Sun: "It was banter that I didn’t start. Yes, I participated in it. On reflection, probably it’s not a subject that should be bantered about on morning radio."

Victorian Federal Labor MP Rob Mitchell attacked Abbott’s remarks on Twitter, calling them "childish".

The rescue mission was called off today a week after the tragedy after stormy weather made conditions perilous for divers.

The news was greeted with despair by relatives of those still missing – including five-year-old Dayana Arlotti, who was with her father William when the liner began to sank.

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

Schettino, who is currently under house arrest, is accused of trying to impress a 25-year-old blonde when the ship ran aground.

But today Domnica Cemortan told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper: “I’m not the captain’s lover.

“You know why? He was showing me photos of his daughter when she was little. A man who wants a lover does not behave like that.”

Earlier this week, 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 began 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.

Italians are venting spleen against Schettino with T-shirts, Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags urging him to “Get Back On Board, For F****’s Sake”.

The command, made via telephone by a furious Italian Coast Guard official has come to symbolise the entire disaster.