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Dancer testifies that she was lover of Costa Concordia captain

October 29, 2013|By Tom Kington
  • Domnica Cemortan leaves the converted Teatro Moderno theater after testifying Tuesday in a hearing in the trial of Captain Francesco Schettino, in Grosseto, Italy. The Moldovan dancer, who was on the bridge when the cruise ship Costa Concordia crashed into a reef, testified that she was the captain's lover.
Domnica Cemortan leaves the converted Teatro Moderno theater after testifying… (Giacomo Aprili / AP )

ROME -- A Moldovan dancer who was on the bridge of the Costa Concordia the night its captain, Francesco Schettino, smashed the luxury cruise ship onto rocks in Italy has admitted in court she was having an affair with him.

Called on Tuesday to give evidence at Schettino’s trial on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, Domnica Cemortan, 26, repeatedly refused to say whether she was having an affair with Schettino, who is married. Eventually, Judge Giovanni Puliatti threatened her with criminal charges.

After admitting the relationship, something she has long denied, Cemortan was asked if she had boarded the vessel without a ticket. “When you are the lover of someone, they don’t ask for your ticket,” she replied before claiming she was joking.

Schettino is accused of steering the 114,000-ton Costa Concordia onto the rocks of the Tuscan island of Giglio in January 2012 during a "sail past" of the island. After the collision, the ship drifted onto rocks in shallow water and tilted onto its side, forcing the 4,200 passengers and crew to scramble into lifeboats, with 32 drowning.

Schettino has been accused of being distracted by Cemortan, who had worked for three weeks on board the ship as a dancer until December 2011, and boarded as a passenger on Jan. 13, 2012, hours before she joined Schettino on the bridge.

Schettino claims he was misled by poor charts and has blamed a navigator who failed to understand his instructions.

Cemortan told the court she dined with Schettino after the ship left the port of Civitavecchia, and admitted her luggage was placed in his cabin next to the bridge, but only because, she said, Schettino had not wanted to leave it in the corridor when he invited her onto the bridge.

Cemortan was asked by lawyer Michelina Suriano, who represents civil plaintiffs at the trial, if she was having an affair with Schettino. Cemortan’s lawyer objected, but was overruled by Puliatti, who said the dancer's relationship with the captain affected the credibility of her testimony. After Cemortan refused to answer three times, Puliatti warned her that she risked criminal charges and ordered a two-minute break to allow her lawyer to persuade her.

When proceedings resumed, the judge said, “I hope your lawyer has explained Italian law to you,” but Cemortan continued to hold out, first stating she had not seen Schettino since the crash, then admitting “I was his preferred member of staff,” before asking if an “affair” meant having sex.

When the judge replied, “You must answer,” Cemortan paused, then replied, “Yes, it was an affair.”

Earlier in the day, a member of the ship’s crew told the court how he had first asked Schettino to perform the sail-past at Giglio. Antonello Tievoli, a maitre d’, said the first time Schettino had tried to get closer to Giglio, as the Costa Concordia passed the island on Jan. 6, he had not been satisfied and was determined to get closer on Jan. 13.

“But I had meant going two to four miles from the coast of the island,” said Tievoli, who claimed he felt guilty for giving Schettino the idea.

Minutes before the collision, Schettino spoke on the phone with Mario Palombo, a former captain with the cruise company Costa Crociere, the owner of the Costa Concordia.

Speaking in court, Palombo said he had tried to persuade Schettino not to perform the sail-past, after Schettino told him he planned to sail within half a mile of the rocky island.

Ciro Onorato, the head waiter, described in court the chaos on board the ship as passengers fled after the collision, claiming some passengers “were punching members of the crew.”

Moments after the impact, he added, Schettino turned to him on the bridge and said, “Stay close to me, don’t abandon me.”

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