As if the world doesn’t already have enough solid information to form a fairly negative opinion of Capt. Francesco Schettino of the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship, now lying on its side on the Tuscan coast—now there is more.
On Thursday, after a day of relatively slow news thanks to stormy seas that halted rescue operations, the Italian press instead brought to the surface a photo garnered from a passenger aboard the Concordia of an unidentified and very young Moldavian woman at Schettino’s side in the very lifeboat he allegedly fell into while attempting to rescue his passengers and crew. Turns out, the mystery woman was no real surprise. She had been mentioned in the British tabloids when one passenger told an Italian newspaper that Schettino had been drinking with an attractive blonde at 8:35 the night of the accident. She had also been mentioned in the preliminary investigation into the accident when several of Schettino’s officers told investigators that the same young woman was on the bridge at the moment the Concordia hit the rocks that later sunk it. She was later identified as 25-year-old Domnica Cermortan, who had worked as a hostess on the ship during the summer. She was not on the passenger list, but was instead a guest of Schettino's.
Now the young Moldavian, who holds a Romanian passport and lives in Bucharest, is a “super witness” in the case. She scampered back to Moldavia just hours after the incident, avoiding authorities who were trying to log all survivors. Just as her picture went viral, she gave a brief interview on Moldavian television in which she lauded her captain’s bravery and skill at the helm. But prosecutors in Italy say they are now interested in questioning her more intensely. Chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio declined to confirm whether she would be subpoenaed in the case, but her name has already appeared in the court register in Grosseto, where this case will be heard. She would be a “super witness,” one investigator told The Daily Beast, because she was an outsider present at the moment of the accident. She could shed valuable light on what really happened on the bridge that night.
Meanwhile, Schettino is enjoying the relative comfort of house arrest in the confines of his family home in Meta di Sorrento. But the case against him is growing stronger. On Thursday, his employer, the Costa Crociere cruise line, not only suspended him without pay, but joined the criminal investigation as an injured party, which means it will supply evidence to the Grosseto prosecutors as they build their case against him. Despite the obvious prejudice against Schettino, there are still some who wonder whether he is a scapegoat for Costa Crociere, an arm of Miami-based Carnival. Investigators in Grosseto are taking a closer look at a series of telephone calls between Schettino and the head of Costa Crociere’s command in the moments between when the Costa hit the rocks and when it was evacuated. Those calls were not monitored, but their existence has raised eyebrows among investigators who have not yet ruled out that Costa may also share in the blame for this tragedy.
As the twisted case against Schettino continues to gain speed, rescue workers off Giglio face an increasingly daunting challenge. The Costa wreckage is slowly inching its way towards an underground cliff that could send it into deep waters, potentially causing an environmental disaster if its fuel tanks burst under the increased water pressure. Every delay diminishes the chance of finding survivors and lengthens the painful wait for the families and friends of the still 26 missing passengers.