ROME (AP) — The captain of a cruise liner that ran aground with some 4,000 passengers on board has been detained while he is investigated on allegations of manslaughter and abandoning his ship, Italian media reported Saturday.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea after the Costa Concordia ran aground near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, ripping a hole in its hull and forcing thousands to escape in a chaotic, terrifying evacuation. Some 40 people are still unaccounted for.
Experts have questioned how Francesco Schettino, the 52-year-old captain with 11 years working for the ship’s owner, could hit so close to the island of Giglio given Italy’s well mapped sea lanes.
The chief prosecutor in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Francesco Verusio, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as telling reporters that the captain ‘‘very ineptly got close to Giglio.’’
‘‘The ship struck a reef that got stuck inside the left side, making it (the ship) lean over and take on a lot of water in the space of two, three minutes,’’ he said.
Schettino was at the command, and it was ‘‘he who ordered the route, that’s what it appears to us. It was a deliberate’’ choice to follow that route, ANSA quote him as saying.
It quoted Schettino’s lawyer, Bruno Leporatti as saying his client understands why he was being detained but that ‘‘as his defender, I'd like to say that several hundred people owed their life to the expertise that the commander of the Costa Concordia showed during the emergency.’’
ANSA quoted Francesco Schettino’s sister, Giulia, as saying her brother called their mother, 80-year-old Rosa, at five in the morning, saying ‘‘Mamma, there has been a tragedy. But stay calm. I tried to save the passengers. But for a while, I won’t be able to phone you.’’
Schettino hails from Meta di Sorrento, in the Naples area where many of Italy’s ferry and cruise boat captains are from. Giulia Schettino was quoted by ANSA as saying that he also asked to speak to his brother, Salvatore, who also is a sailor, to tell him what happened aboard.
ANSA reported Schettino was taken to Grosseto’s jail, to be held until next week, when a judge will decide whether he should be released or formally put under arrest. The courthouse was closed late Saturday and couldn’t be reached.
In Italy, suspects can be held without charge for a few days for investigation. A judge must either validate the jailing, putting the suspect under arrest, or declare him free to go.