Rome: Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino claimed today that his decision to delay evacuation of the stricken cruise ship may actually have saved lives in the 2012 disaster.
In a second day of testimony at his manslaughter trial, Schettino, 54, was quizzed by prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi as to why he did not sound the alarm immediately after he hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio, triggering a disaster in which 32 people died.
The captain, who is also charged with causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, replied that such a move would have led to a dangerous panic among the 4,229 people on board.
"I wanted to get the ship as close to the island as possible. The way it was shaking, had I sounded the (nautical signal for abandon ship) seven long whistles and one short one, people would have thrown themselves into the water," Schettino said.
The Concordia hit the rocks at 9.45 pm and the order to abandon ship was not issued until over an hour later, at 10.54 pm, by which time the boat had drifted back towards the island, where it eventually came to rest on the sea bed, half-submerged in about 20 metres of water.
The prosecution team are seeking to portray Schettino as a man who was completely overwhelmed by events and dithered dangerously as the boat drifted.
But the experienced merchant seaman insisted he was fully in control. He told the court he was sure the boat was not about to immediately sink and that he thought the prevailing wind would lead to it drifting from deep water to a shallower position nearer the island, where an evacuation, if required, would be easier and safer.
"I delayed sounding the alarm knowing exactly how much manoeuvre time the ship had. I knew the Concordia well, I wanted to get her closer to the island and then sound the alarm," he said.
"By then the damage was done. (Through my actions) It was contained."
Schettino was then pressed to explain why he thought he could influence a drifting 115,000-tonne ship with all its engines out of action, and why a series of reassuring announcements were made to the terrified passengers.
"I did that to calm people down, I was afraid of panic," he replied.
He also denied that he had not radio-ed for tow boats to help stabilise the ship because of concern over the financial implications of seeking salvage. "I did not put the boat before human lives," he said. "The cost I would have thought about afterwards."