By Tom Kington
The cruise liner captain accused of abandoning ship after he struck rocks off the Tuscan coast last Friday has reportedly claimed he was unable to lead the evacuation because he slipped and tripped into a lifeboat while helping passengers leave the stricken vessel.
During a three-hour hearing on Tuesday, captain Francesco Schettino said it was an accident that he left the Costa Concordia, according to La Repubblica.
“The passengers were pouring on to the decks, taking the lifeboats by assault,” the newspaper quoted him as telling a judge during a hearing to determine whether he should be held in custody on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship.
“I didn’t even have a life jacket because I had given it to one of the passengers. I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60-70Â° angle, I tripped and I ended up in one of the boats. That’s how I found myself in the lifeboat,” said Schettino.
“Suspended there, I was unable to lower the boat into the sea, because the space was blocked by other boats in the water.”
The captain did however admit responsibility for crashing the ship into rocks which tore a hole in the Costa Concordia, forcing him to ground the vessel.
“I made a mistake on the approach,” he said.
“I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this manoeuvre three or four times. But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was too shallow. I don’t know why it happened. I was a victim of my instincts.”
Schettino confirmed he sailed close to the island of Giglio to salute a retired captain, Mario Palombo, and was on the phone to Palombo at the time.
Schettino said he was not afraid of a drugs test: “I don’t do drugs and I had not drunk.” By grounding the vessel close to the shore after it struck rock he believes he saved the lives of many passengers.
On Wednesday, a Dutch-owned salvage vessel arrived in Giglio port ready to go into action once divers resume their search for passengers on board. The brother of an Indian waiter who worked on the cruise ship and who was still missing arrived on Giglio on Wednesday to search for him.
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