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Costa Concordia Captain Admits Error Caused Cruise Ship Accident, Now Under House Arrest

Jan 18, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Italian prosecutors could file charges against Costa Concordia cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino later this week, after a judge ordered him held under house arrest on suspicions of manslaughter and abandoning ship.  According to the Associated Press, Schettino faces 12 years in prison on the charge of abandoning ship alone, according to an Associate Press report.

Eleven people are confirmed dead, and 22 are still missing in the Costa Concordia disaster.  The massive cruise ship ran aground off the Tuscan coast of Italy last Friday.  The vessel was four miles off course when it hit a rock, which tore a 160-foot hole in its hull.  The ship began to list and eventually capsized.

Passengers aboard the ship have described chaos in the hour after the Concordia ran aground, with little direction from the ship's senior officers, and crew - including kitchen and entertainment staff - unsure of how to proceed. An SOS from the ship may have been delayed or not sent at all.  According to The Wall Street Journal, an Italian official said that the coast guard learned of the ship's troubles after passengers phoned police to complain. The coast guard then contacted the ship's command at about 10:15 p.m., more than a half-hour after the boat hit the rock formation. 

According to various media reports, an official order to abandon ship and board life boats did not come until about 10:50 p.m., more than an hour after the Concordia hit the rocks.  By that time, the ship was listing severely, rendering many life boats useless.

Yesterday, the recording of a conversation between Schettino, by this time in a life boat while many passengers and crew remained on the Concordia, and an obviously furious Italian Coast Guard Officer was released.  In the tape, the  officer can be heard ordering Schettino to get back to the Concordia to oversee the evacuation, but the Concordia captain resisted, asserting he was coordinating the evacuation from the life boat.

“What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?" the coast guard officer demands, according to a translated transcript.

Schettino complained at one point, "Do you realize it is dark and here we can't see anything?"

Yesterday in court, Schettino, who was detained by Italian authorities on Saturday, admitted his error caused the Concordia to run aground.  He also said he brought the ship close to the coast of the Italian island of Giglio to salute a retired captain who lived there.

"I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this maneuver 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," he testified, according to a report from The Guardian.

Schettino, however, disputed accusations that he abandoned the stricken ship, claiming he fell into a lifeboat when the vessel listed violently.

Meanwhile, dive crews today suspended their search of the Concordia after the overturned ship shifted on the rocks where it is resting.  There are fears that the ship could rip apart, spilling fuel that would create an ecological disaster.  Hopes that any of the missing will be found alive have dimmed.

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