ROME (AP) — Court-appointed experts have squarely blamed the captain of a cruise ship that ran aground off Italy for the wreckage and deaths of 32 people, but they also faulted the crew and ship owner for a series of blunders, delays and safety breaches that contributed to the disaster.
The Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan. 13 after Capt. Francesco Schettino took it off course and brought it close to the island as part of a stunt. He is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all passengers were evacuated.
Eight other people, among them crew members and Costa's crisis coordinator, are also under investigation. The court in Grosseto ordered the expert investigation to help it determine who, if anyone, should be put on trial. A hearing is scheduled for next month.
In a 270-page analysis, the four experts described in second-by-second detail the unfolding disaster as Schettino slowly came to realize the gravity of the situation. Using data and voice recorders to reconstruct the drama on the bridge, the report showed how Schettino failed to grasp for a good 45 minutes repeated reports from his crew that his ship was flooding and its motors dead.
The analysis came out Wednesday and was placed online Thursday by the Rome daily La Repubblica.
The experts contrasted what went wrong on board with maritime rules and procedures and determined that Schettino should have given the "abandon ship" order at 10 p.m. that night, 15 minutes after the 9:45 p.m. grounding against the rocks off Giglio.
Instead, the evacuation order only went out at 10:43 p.m. — and Schettino himself didn't give it but another officer, in violation of maritime rules. By that time, passengers on their own had already reported to their muster stations with life jackets on, despite a decision from a crew member at one point that they should go back to the dining room.
"Madonna, what a mess I've made," Schettino muttered soon after the collision, according to the transcript.
Beyond Schettino's faults, the experts said a series of problems hobbled the execution of his initial maneuver and efforts to fix it, and contributed to the botched evacuation. Bridge crew members bungled directions and didn't his understand orders because of language barriers. Other crew members weren't trained or certified in security and emergency drills, the report found.
In all, the experts said, Schettino and his bridge crew showed "scarce professional seriousness" before and during the disaster, with Schettino joking just before the crash, after his helmsman again misunderstood an order, that he needed to do it right "otherwise we go on the rocks."