Smoking Gun

01.17.12

Port Authority Begged Costa Concordia Captain to Return to Ship

Tape recordings show that Francesco Schettino left the Costa Concordia before all the passengers were off and then pleaded with the port authority not to send him back on the ship.

“Listen, Schettino, there are people trapped on board. Now you have to go with your lifeboat and go under the boat stern on the straight side. There is a ladder there. Get on board the ship and tell me, you tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I’m recording this conversation, captain.”

Those were the chilling words caught on tape between Gregorio De Falco, the commander of Livorno’s Port Authority and Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, just after midnight Friday, Jan. 13 as the 4,200 passengers and crew scrambled off the listing ship. Corriere della Sera newspaper posted the chilling voice recording on its website

The conversation is a disturbing glimpse into the level of alleged negligence displayed by the captain of the Costa Concordia. There are 11 fatalities and at least 23 missing in the catastrophic shipwreck that appears to have been caused by Schettino’s autonomous decision to deviate from the ship’s authorized route and instead skirt the tiny tourist island of Giglio to do a maritime “fly by” to a friend of the ship’s head waiter. The ship then hit a rocky reef that left one giant boulder lodged in its hull before listing and turning around to rest on the shallow shores of Giglio. Passengers told The Daily Beast that it took at least an hour before the ship was evacuated, and by then it was listing at least 20 degrees off center. The captain then allegedly got off the ship.

When De Falco asked him why he left his post on the ship’s bridge, Schettino’s voice quivers and he replies, “Commander, at this moment the ship is tilting.”

De Falco then replied, “I understand, but listen. There are people coming down the stem ladder. You must take the ladder in the opposite direction. Get on board the ship and you tell me how many people are on board. What do they have? Is that clear? You tell me if there are children, women, people with special needs. And you tell me how many there are. Look, Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make your life difficult. Get on board, damn it!”

A few minutes later, the port authority commander again asked Schettino where he is. Schettino, who was still on land, didn’t reply. “Go on board and coordinate the rescue operation from there,” yells De Falco. “Are you refusing?”

Schettino then pleads that he is not refusing, but does not return to his ship. The port authority commander is now audibly angry. “You get on board. This is an order!” De Falco says. “You cannot make any other decisions. You have declared you are abandoning your ship. Now I’m in charge. You get on board now. Is that clear?”

"Get on board the ship and you tell me how many people are on board. You tell me if there are children, women, people with special needs. And you tell me how many there are. Look, Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make your life difficult. Get on board, damn it!"

A few seconds later the frustrated port authority commander adds, “There are already bodies, Schettino.” Schettino replies, “How many dead are there?”

“You are supposed to be the one telling me how many there are. Christ.”

Schettino then says, “Are you aware that it is dark here and we cannot see anything?|”

De Falco is livid by now. He replies, “So? Do you want to go home, Schettino? It’s dark and you want to go home? Climb that ladder and get on that ship.”

The dramatic recording and transcripts from the hours after Schettino ran the Costa Concordia onto the reef give a picture of a disconnected captain whose concern was for his own safety, not that of his crew and passengers. In a second call between the two men, De Falco checks again whether Schettino has boarded the crippled vessel. “You need to get on board to coordinate the evacuation. Is that clear?” he asks. “But we can’t get on. The ship is now … turned. We abandoned the ship. The ship capsized.” De Falco then responded, “With 100 people on board you abandon the ship? Fuck.”

This taped conversation is the basis of a criminal investigation into Schettino’s actions. Judge Valeria Montesarchio heard from Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor of Grosseto for more than an hour today in a hearing in which Schettino and his lawyer Bruno Leporatti tried to answer questions about what happened that night. The judge reserved the right to make a final ruling on whether or not Schettino should stay in prison for the entire investigative phase. Legally, Italian authorities can keep him in custody for up to a year before formally filing charges. Schettino’s lawyer says that his client actually acted heroically to save as many passengers as possible and should not wait out the investigation in a prison cell.

Meanwhile, recovery efforts on the island of Giglio turned grim as five more bodies were pulled from the wreckage. The remains were found after rescue workers blasted five large holes in the ship to access areas under the wreckage. There are still 23 missing passengers, including two Americans from Minnesota. Recovery efforts will continue around the clock to beat a winter sea storm expected to move through the area on Thursday. A Dutch salvage team is now assessing how to remove the 500,000 gallons of fuel from the vulnerable wreckage and eventually remove the ship from the pretty little bay of Giglio.