Doomed ship's captain told port: 'It's just a blackout'

Jan 19 2012 - 10:39am

Images

FILE In this In this Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 file photo Francesco Schettino, right, the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italy's tiny Tuscan island of Isola del Giglio, is taken into custody by Carabinieri in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. Seamen have expressed almost universal outrage at Capt. Francesco Schettino, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and of abandoning his crippled cruise ship off Tuscany while passengers were still on board. The charge of abandoning his ship carries a potential sentence of 12 years in prison. Seafaring tradition holds that the captain should be last to leave a sinking ship. But is it realistic to expect skippers _ only human after all _ to suppress their survival instinct amid the horror of a maritime disaster? To ask them to stare down death from the bridge, as the lights go out and the water rises, until everyone else has made it to safety? From mariners on ships plying the world's oceans, the answer is loud and clear: Aye. (AP Photo/Giacomo Aprili, File)
People look at the cruise ship Costa Concordia keeled over on its side in the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
An Italian Navy vessel speeds by as firefighters stand on the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it leans on its side after running aground on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Jan. 16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver. The death toll is of at least 10, with some 20 people still missing. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian technician Andra Faccioli aims a laser scanner to take measurements on the position of the cruise ship Costa Concordia as it leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Ja.16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver. There are 22 people still missing.(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Workers of the Rotterdam-based Smit Salvage company, who have not as yet won the contract to salvage the cruise ship Costa Concordia and empty the ship of fuel to avert an environmental catastrophe, after the cruise ship ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, take a break in the port of Giglio, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. Divers have resumed the search for 21 people still missing after a cruise ship capsized off the Tuscan coast. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Jan.16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver.(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
FILE In this In this Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 file photo Francesco Schettino, right, the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italy's tiny Tuscan island of Isola del Giglio, is taken into custody by Carabinieri in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. Seamen have expressed almost universal outrage at Capt. Francesco Schettino, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and of abandoning his crippled cruise ship off Tuscany while passengers were still on board. The charge of abandoning his ship carries a potential sentence of 12 years in prison. Seafaring tradition holds that the captain should be last to leave a sinking ship. But is it realistic to expect skippers _ only human after all _ to suppress their survival instinct amid the horror of a maritime disaster? To ask them to stare down death from the bridge, as the lights go out and the water rises, until everyone else has made it to safety? From mariners on ships plying the world's oceans, the answer is loud and clear: Aye. (AP Photo/Giacomo Aprili, File)
People look at the cruise ship Costa Concordia keeled over on its side in the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
An Italian Navy vessel speeds by as firefighters stand on the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it leans on its side after running aground on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Jan. 16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver. The death toll is of at least 10, with some 20 people still missing. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian technician Andra Faccioli aims a laser scanner to take measurements on the position of the cruise ship Costa Concordia as it leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Ja.16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver. There are 22 people still missing.(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Workers of the Rotterdam-based Smit Salvage company, who have not as yet won the contract to salvage the cruise ship Costa Concordia and empty the ship of fuel to avert an environmental catastrophe, after the cruise ship ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, take a break in the port of Giglio, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. Divers have resumed the search for 21 people still missing after a cruise ship capsized off the Tuscan coast. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday, Jan.16, after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver.(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME -- A new audiotape emerged Thursday of the first contact between Livorno port officials and the Costa Concordia -- and the captain is heard insisting that his cruise ship only had a blackout a full 30 minutes after it had rammed into a reef.

Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, is under house arrest, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.

The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized diversion Friday from his programmed route. The ship then keeled over on its side.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing.

The recording between Schettino and port officials began at 10:12 p.m. Friday, a good 30 minutes after the ship violently hit a reef and panicked passengers had fled the dining room to get their lifejackets.

Recordings of Schettino's conversations with coast guard officials after the ship capsized on its side have shown how he resisted repeated orders to return on board to oversee the evacuation.

In a new recording released Thursday, the first communication between the ship and Livorno port authorities, Schettino is heard assuring the officer that he was checking out the reasons for the blackout. But he doesn't volunteer that the ship had hit a reef.

Rather, the port officer tells Schettino that his agency had heard from a relative of one of ship's sailors that "during dinner everything fell on their heads." Passengers in the dining area reported plates and glasses slamming down onto diners.

"We are verifying the conditions on board," Schettino replies. Asked if passengers had been told to put on life jackets, he responds: "Correct."

Crew members and passengers alike have complained about the chaotic evacuation and the lack of direction from the ship's management.

Divers, meanwhile, restarted the search Thursday for those still missing, but a forecast of rough seas added uncertainty to the operation and to plans to begin pumping fuel from the stranded vessel.

The divers were focusing on an evacuation route on the fourth level, now about 18 meters (60 feet) below the water's surface, where five bodies were found earlier this week, Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TG 24. Crews set off small explosions to blow holes into hard-to-reach areas for easier access by divers.

Officials restarted the search after determining the ship had stabilized after shifting on the rocks 24 hours earlier.

Also Thursday, seven of the dead were identified by authorities: French passengers Jeanne Gannard, Pierre Gregoire, Francis Servil, 71, and Jean-Pierre Micheaud, 61; Peruvian crew member Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza; Spanish passenger Guillermo Gual, 68, and Italian passenger Giovanni Masia, who news reports said would have turned 86 next week and was buried in Sardinia on Thursday.

Italian authorities have identified 32 people who have either died or are missing: 12 Germans, seven Italians, six French, two Peruvians, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India and Spain.

The ship's sudden movement Wednesday had also postponed the start of the weekslong operation to extract the half-million gallons of fuel on board the vessel. Italy's environment minister issued a fresh warning Thursday about the implications if the ship shifts and breaks any of its now-intact oil tanks.

"We are very concerned" about the weather, minister Corrado Clini told Mediaset television. "If the tanks were to break, the fuel would block the sunlight from getting to the bottom of the sea, making a kind of film, and that would cause the death of the marine system in the area."

Crew members returning home have begun speaking out about the chaotic evacuation, saying the captain sounded the alarm too late and didn't give orders or instructions about how to evacuate passengers. Eventually, crew members started lowering lifeboats on their own.

"They asked us to make announcements to say that it was electrical problems and that our technicians were working on it and to not panic," French steward Thibault Francois told France-2 television Thursday. "I told myself this doesn't sound good."

He said the captain took too long to react and that eventually his boss told him to start escorting passengers to lifeboats. "No, there were no orders from the management," he said.

Indian ship waiter Mukesh Kumar said "the emergency alarm was sounded very late," only after the ship "started tilting and water started seeping" in.

He was one of four Indians flown to New Delhi on Thursday, the first to return out of 203 Indians aboard the Concordia.

"The ship shook for a while, and then the crockery stated falling all over," said Indian Kandari Surjan Singh, who worked in the ship's galley. "People started panicking. Then the captain ordered that everything is under control and said it was a normal electric fault ... so people calmed down after that."

Among the missing are an Italian father and 5-year-old daughter. The girl's mother issued a fresh appeal to speed the search and for passengers who saw the pair to come forward to help determine where they were last seen.

"Don't stop, bring home my daughter. Get her out," Susy Albertini, 28, said on Italian television Wednesday evening after meeting with government and port officials in Tuscany.

William Arlotti, 36, had taken his daughter on on the cruise with his girlfriend, Michela Marconcelli, who survived. Marconcelli said she got separated from the other two in the evacuation.

Other missing include retirees Jerry and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, who were treating themselves after putting four children through college.

The ship's operator, Crociere Costa SpA, has accused Schettino of causing the wreck by making the unapproved detour, and the captain has acknowledged carrying out what he called a "tourist navigation" that brought the ship closer to Giglio.

Costa is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.

 

From Around the Web

  +