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Blame spreads in Italy's Costa Concordia shipwreck

There seems to be no doubt about the captain among the public, prosecutors and news media. The captain says owner Costa Crociere is partly at fault. And then there's the blond ...

January 21, 2012|By Sarah Delaney, Los Angeles Times
  • People take in the sight of the stricken Costa Concordia off Giglio island, Italy. Another body was found aboard the ship, raising the death toll to 12.
People take in the sight of the stricken Costa Concordia off Giglio island,… (Tullio M. Puglia, Getty…)

Reporting from Rome — The blame game surrounding the wreck of the Costa Concordia has spread like ripples on a tranquil Mediterranean bay.

Eight days after the hull of the liner was ripped open by a rocky outcrop, the dynamics of the brutal interruption of a starry-night cruise past a small Tuscan island aren't clear. But that hasn't stopped an almost unseemly rash of finger-pointing.

There appears to be no doubt about the personal responsibility of Capt. Francesco Schettino, who has acknowledged bringing the 1,000-foot-long floating city startlingly close to the craggy coast of Giglio island, leading to a Friday the 13th tragedy that has so far claimed 12 lives, including a woman whose body was recovered Saturday from a submerged ship corridor.

And the heroes in the calamity are likewise undisputed: the generous citizens of Giglio, who came out in throngs to aid the more than 4,000 passengers and crew members; the scuba divers, speleologists, climbers and other experts combing the insides of the overturned ship to find the missing; ship's officer Manrico Giampetroni, who helped passengers evacuate until he slipped and was trapped for 36 hours inside the half-submerged vessel; Gregorio De Falco, the Coast Guard officer who famously ordered the captain, "Get back on board, damn it!"

But the captain, who has been denounced as a coward and a liar by fellow Italians, investigators and most recently by the company that employed him, apparently does not intend (once again) to go down in the sinking ship alone.

Now under house arrest in his hometown of Meta di Sorrento, Schettino is charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. According to court documents, he has acknowledged taking the ship too close to the Island, but maintains that after hitting the rock he turned the ship back to the relative safety of the Giglio port, facilitating the rescue operations.

He denies abandoning the ship.

His version is not getting much traction in the Italian media, with prosecutors or with his employers, the Genoa-based cruise ship company Costa Crociere.

Costa Crociere's chairman and chief executive, Pier Luigi Foschi, said that Schettino violated established routes by getting too close to the island and that he had lied to the company in the immediate aftermath of the collision about the gravity of the situation.

Not so fast, Schettino says. According to news reports, the captain said he spoke to the Costa emergency command at least 10 times, telling them, "I made a bad mistake, I hit a rock, send helicopters and rescue boats."

Costa denies that Schettino warned it properly, and to distance itself has suspended him from service and begun procedures for a civil case against him.

The blame contagion also spread to Italian halls of justice.

Prosecutors from Grosseto, the mainland city closest to Giglio, have unequivocally laid responsibility on Schettino, calling his behavior "reckless" and "inexcusable," and want to keep him in jail because they fear he will flee or try to influence witnesses.

Chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio said he "does not understand" the decision of a reviewing judge to release Schettino to house arrest and has challenged it in higher court.

And if the catastrophe didn't have enough intrigue, a young blond woman has appeared in Italian news reports insinuating that the captain took the ship so close to the rocky shore of Giglio to show off to her.

Reached by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the 25-year-old woman denied that she was in the command cabin and defended the captain, saying that he had saved thousands of lives and that he was being unfairly blamed by news organizations around the world.

Blame is also being apportioned in Italy to cruise companies in general, not only Costa Crociere, that participate in an apparently well established but now denied practice of "taking a bow" before particularly picturesque areas or towns on the coast of Italy, with the blasting of horns and blinking of lights.

Environmental Minister Corrado Clini said he would try to bring legislation that would regulate "a habit that is tolerated but not sustainable.... These habits can no longer be tolerated."

Delaney is a special correspondent.

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