Disarray doomed cruise ship passengers

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The cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side after running aground Friday evening on the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy on Tuesday. 11 passengers are confirmed dead as of Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ROME — “You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me?” the Coast Guard officer shouted as the captain of the grounded Costa Concordia sat safe in a life raft and frantic passengers struggled to escape after the ship rammed into a reef off the Tuscan coast.

“It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘Abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge.”

The dramatic recording made public Tuesday shows Capt. Francesco Schettino resisted orders to return to his ship to direct the evacuation, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping perilously.

The exchange came to light as the death toll nearly doubled to 11 after divers pulled the bodies of four men and a woman, all wearing life vests, from the wreckage. Some two dozen people remain missing.

The Costa Concordia had more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board when it slammed into the reef Friday off the tiny island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized maneuver from the ship’s programmed course — apparently to show off the luxury liner to the island’s residents.

Schettino has insisted that he stayed aboard until the ship was evacuated. However, the recording of his conversation with Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco makes clear he fled before all passengers were off — and then defied De Falco’s repeated orders to go back.

The exchange also indicates that Schettino did not know anyone had died, with De Falco telling him at one point: “There are already bodies now, Schettino.”

The audio, first made available on the website of the Corriere della Sera newspaper and authenticated by the Coast Guard, was broadcast throughout the day on Italian television to a stunned nation.

Jailed since the accident, Schettino appeared Tuesday before a judge in Grosseto, where he was questioned for three hours. The judge ordered him held under house arrest, his lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told reporters, and later Italian media said he had returned to his home near Naples.

Criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship are expected to be filed by prosecutors in coming days. He faces 12 years in prison for the abandoning ship charge alone.

The five bodies discovered Tuesday were adults in their 50s or 60s, each wearing the orange vests that passengers use, indicating they were not crew members, said a Coast Guard spokesman, Cmdr. Filippo Marini. Their nationalities were not immediately released.

They were discovered after Italian naval divers exploded holes in the hull of the grounded cruise ship, trying to speed up the search for the missing. Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TV 24 the holes would help divers enter the wreck more easily. “We are rushing against time,” he said.

Before the grim finding, authorities had said 25 passengers and four crew members were missing.