Gravity forced me off Concordia: captain

The captain of the Costa Concordia has told his manslaughter trial that gravity, not cowardice, had been behind his decision to abandon ship with passengers and crew still aboard.

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On a day when he also claimed that his decision to delay evacuation of the stricken vessel could have saved lives, Francesco Schettino delivered a new version of his previous, widely-derided claim that he had “tripped and fallen” into a lifeboat.

Thirty-two people lost their lives when the cruise ship sank off Italy’s coast in 2012.

In court, Schettino confirmed that he had left the bridge barely half an hour after ordering the launch of lifeboats, saying he needed to get a radio from his cabin.

The cabin was on the right hand side of the boat which was tilted towards the sea and was soon to lurch further on to its starboard side, leaving him with no option but to disembark, he said.

“I was subject to the force of gravity,” Schettino said.

“Either I had to throw myself into the water – perhaps that would have been better – or I had to get into the lifeboat.”

The 54-year-old insisted that, had he found himself on a more central deck, “I would have been the last person off the boat”.

Before leaving the bridge, recorded telephone conversations with officials in the port of Livorno indicate, Schettino had insisted he would be the last man off.

He also rejected suggestions he had been negligent in failing to issue a clear “abandon ship” order, for fear of inciting panic.

Earlier in the day, Schettino had defended his decision to delay evacuation for over an hour after he hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.

The captain, who is also charged with causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, replied that such a move would have led to chaos among the 4229 people on board and his actions saved lives.

The prosecution team are seeking to portray Schettino as a man who was completely overwhelmed by events, but the experienced merchant seaman insisted he was fully in control and knew the wind would take the boat into a safer position.

Prosecutors revealed for the first time on Monday that they intend to seek a 20-year prison sentence for the career seaman who has been described as “Captain Coward” because of the manner of his departure from the boat.

The trial was adjourned on Tuesday evening and will resume on December 11, when Schettino will be questioned by lawyers for the defence and victims’ families.