Profile: Capt Francesco Schettino

Capt Francesco Schettino in court in Grosseto, Italy (9 Jul 2013) Capt Schettino maintains that he saved lives by steering the stricken ship to shallow water

Francesco Schettino has gone on trial in Italy for his role in one of the country's worst maritime disasters.

Thirty-two people died when the cruise ship hit rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio in January 2012 and tipped onto its side. It remains there semi-submerged.

Capt Schettino is facing charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, earning him the title "Captain Coward" in the Italian media.

He has accepted some responsibility but denies the criminal charges, and says his actions after the ship ran aground prevented a much greater loss of life.

Born in 1960 in the southern coastal town of Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Capt Schettino has lived a life dominated by the sea.

He attended a nautical institute in the nearby town of Piano di Sorrento and then joined Costa Cruises in 2002, initially as an official in charge of security.

In 2006, he was promoted to the role of captain, having been second-in-command.

Evacuation chaos

The official report into what happened to the Costa Concordia - almost a floating city with its 4,300 passengers and crew members - blamed Capt Schettino for its sinking.

It alleged that on the night of the 13 January 2012 he deliberately changed course to perform a risky night-time sail-past salute to people on the tiny island of Giglio.

Disaster timeline

Costa Concordia off the coast of Giglio, Italy (8 July 2013)
  • 13 Jan 2012: Costa Concordia runs aground
  • 31 Jan: Search for bodies abandoned
  • 12 Feb: Fuel removal operation finally begins
  • 24 March: Fuel removal work completed
  • 15 Oct: Capt Schettino appears at court inquiry
  • 22 May 2013: Court decides to try Capt Schettino for multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship
  • 9 Jul: Trial of Capt Schettino begins and is adjourned

The hull was damaged on the rocks, water flooded in and the ship began to list.

Many passengers described chaos as they attempted to leave the ship, with some jumping into the Mediterranean to swim to the island.

In a television interview given hours after the ship ran aground, Mr Schettino's shock and disbelief is clear as he tells reporters the rocks had not been shown on his charts.

"We didn't hit it with the bow of the boat, but from the side, as if this rock had some kind of spike beneath the water," he said.

"We were about 300 metres from the rocks, more or less, we shouldn't have hit anything."

As reports of an unplanned change of course and terrifying evacuation multiplied, the ship's owner, Costa Cruises, distanced itself from the captain who, it said, had made "serious errors of judgement".

Costa's Chief Executive Officer Pier Luigi Foschi said Mr Schettino changed a pre-programmed route to make a manoeuvre that was "unauthorised, unapproved and unknown to Costa".

"The captain has the authority to take the decisions on board. In this case, the captain decided to change the route and he went into waters that he did not know in advance," Mr Foschi said.

Start Quote

It's like plane crashes - everyone thinks it couldn't happen to them”

End Quote Capt Schettino quoted in 2010 interview with Dnes newspaper

Transcripts of conversations between Capt Schettino and the coastguard suggested he did not at first tell them the gravity of the damage - saying only that there had been a power blackout - and then fled to a lifeboat before all passengers had been evacuated.

In the recordings, Coastguard Capt Gregorio De Falco repeatedly orders him to get back on board the ship.

"Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board!" Capt De Falco says.

Speaking by radio from a lifeboat, Capt Schettino says he is co-ordinating the rescue from there, pleading at one point: "Do you realise that it is dark and we can't see anything?"

The coastguard shouts back: "So, what do you want to do, to go home, Schettino?! It's dark and you want to go home? Go to the bow of the ship where the ladder is and tell me what needs to be done, how many people there are, and what they need! Now!"

A taxi driver who says he took the captain to a hotel on Saturday morning after the sinking told Italy's Ansa news agency the captain had asked only where he could buy some socks.

Costa Cruises CEO Pier Luigi Foschi: "He [the captain] decided to change the course of the ship"

"He looked like a beaten dog, cold and scared," the taxi driver said.

Capt Schettino has accepted some degree of responsibility, asking for forgiveness in a television interview last year as he talked of those who died.

He said he blamed himself for being "distracted" but that he had not been on the bridge when the ship ran aground.

In the interview, be broke down when asked about the youngest of the 32 victims, a five-year-old girl.

As the accusations against Mr Schettino grew, there were those who came to his defence, setting up a Facebook page that attracted 1,500 fans.

Many of them were sailors themselves who agreed with Mr Schettino's assertion that his decision to steer the ship towards shallower waters had probably saved dozens of lives.

According to an interview in Naples-based Il Mattino newspaper quoting his sister, the first person Mr Schettino called after the incident was his 80-year-old mother, Rosa.

"He called her at five in the morning on Saturday to tell her there had been a disaster, that he had tried to save as many passengers as possible and not to worry, because it was all over," she said.

Map of Costa Concordia's route

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