Laura Viggiano and James Mackenzie –
Francesco Schettino, the captain of the doomed cruise liner Costa Concordia, knew as soon as his ship struck a rock off the island of Giglio on January 13 that he had made a catastrophic error and a 30-year career at sea was ending in disgrace.
Bringing the 114,500 tonne vessel to within a stone’s throw of shore, he had intended to perform a “salute” to the island for the benefit of Antonello Tievoli, the ship’s head waiter and a native of Giglio.
But as he came to within a quarter of a nautical mile of the coast, in water he believed to be deep enough to be safe, he saw foam breaking on what appeared to be a submerged outcrop and turned sharply, exposing the side of the hull to the sharp rock.
“I may have done something rash, I did do something rash, but God would have made it alright for me if I hadn’t set the rudder to starboard,” he told magistrates investigating the accident, according to a transcript.
“That’s what I remember from that moment and I tell it to you with the utmost sincerity, because as an intelligent man, as a commander, I can’t hide, I have to take responsibility for the fact that I made a judgment error,” he said.
At least 17 people died and 15 are still missing after the accident in which the 290 metre-long Concordia, built for half a billion euros less than six years ago, capsized just metres from shore.
Schettino, 51, has been blamed for the accident by prosecutors, by the owners of the ship and, overwhelmingly, by Italian public opinion and media which represent him as having shamed the whole country.