x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Italy shipwreck captain admits 'distracted' but shifts blame

The captain of an Italian cruise ship which crashed in January asked for forgiveness in his first interview since the disaster saying he was "distracted" but shifting blame to other crew members.

ROME // The captain of an Italian cruise ship which crashed in January asked for forgiveness in his first interview since the disaster saying he was "distracted" but shifting blame to other crew members.

Francesco Schettino, who is being investigated for causing the shipwreck and abandoning the Costa Concordia before all the 4,229 people on board were evacuated, said someone on the bridge should have spotted the offshore reef.

Leaked recordings from the ship's black box published by the Corriere della Sera daily on Wednesday meanwhile showed he took over command at 9:39 pm on that fateful night -- six minutes before the crash which killed 32 people.

"I blame myself for being distracted," Schettino said in the interview with Canale 5, a private television channel, which was aired late on Tuesday.

"It is as if all the brains and the instruments on board short-circuited."

Schettino said he was on the phone with a retired local captain asking him how close the Costa Concordia could sail along the shore but said other crew members should have spotted how near the ship was closing in on offshore rocks.

"This was a banal accident in which fatalities were caused by human interactions. I think there was a misunderstanding from the start," he said in an interview in his home in which he appeared twitchy and dishevelled.

"That distance as is routine should have been reported because whoever is seeing excessive proximity on the radar should signal it," he said.

He also defended his decision to delay evacuation of the ship for 45 minutes, saying it would have been "stupid" to abandon the vessel earlier as it was moving closer to the shore making it easier for lifeboats.

"Being at a lower depth definitely meant fewer victims," he said.

Schettino said he was "a victim of this whole system" and did not "feel like I committed a crime" but added: "It is normal that I ask for forgiveness from everyone and feel the weight of the 32 victims on my conscience."

Prosecutor Francesco Verusio told La Stampa daily said he was "embarrassed" by the "lies" being told by Schettino and there was outrage among commentators over allegations that he was paid 50,000 euros ($61,000) for the interview.

Canale 5 denied that Schettino was paid, after commentators drew attention to the fact that uninjured survivors received compensation of 14,000 euros.

"Everything that happened on the bridge showed what his responsibilities are. We should remember that the day after his arrest he said 'I did a stupid thing' and now he says he is a perfect captain. It's incredible!" Verusio said.

Schettino, who spoke against a backdrop of a large model ship and spoke of his nostalgia for the sea, was released from house arrest last week after seven months but has to remain in his town of Meta di Sorrento on the Amalfi coast.

The Costa Concordia hit a rock off the Tuscan island of Giglio and slowly keeled over near the shore after veering sharply -- a manoeuvre that Schettino says he engineered in order to avoid the ship sinking in the open sea.

Schettino in the interview claimed he also managed to avoid a head-on collision with the rock, saying: "The hand of God made me feel that I had to do something important after I saw that white foam (around the rock).

Eight other people are being investigated along with Schettino -- five crew members and three executives from ship owner Costa Crociere, including company vice president Manfred Ursprunger and crisis unit chief Roberto Ferrarini.