The captain of a luxury cruise liner that capsized off Italy's coast may have steered the ship too close to shore so that its head waiter could salute his family in a pre-planned stunt that was posted on Facebook.
Just minutes before the Costa Concordia struck rocks and began taking on water, the head waiter's sister updated her Facebook status to say: "In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. A big greeting to my brother who finally gets to have a holiday on landing in Savona."
At least six people were killed in the accident, with a further 29 people - four crew and 22 passengers - still missing and fears that a fuel leak could cause an ecological disaster in the area.
Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, reportedly invited the head waiter, Antonello Tievoli, on to the bridge as he steered the vessel towards the coast of Giglio on Friday night.
"Come and see, Antonello, we're right in front of Giglio," the captain told Tievoli shortly before the crash, according to Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.
It also quoted witnesses who claimed the waiter had warned Captain Schettino just before the accident, saying: "Careful, we are extremely close to the shore."
Captain Schettino may have performed the sail-past also as a salute to an old colleague, a former admiral from the cruise line, who was not even on Giglio on Friday night.
Claims have emerged that a similarly close "sail-past" last year prompted a mayor to send a congratulatory email to the captain for helping entertain the island's tourists.
Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli said "Costa ships often pass close to the island".
"Tourists and locals gather on the jetty to see the ships go by. We light up the [stone tower built to spot pirate raids during mediaeval times]. It's a great sight," he said.
Costa Crociere, the Carnival line that runs the ship Costa Concordia, said early indications were that the captain had made "very serious judgments" and failed to follow company emergency procedures.
In a statement, the company said Captain Schettino, 52, sailed too close to the island off the Tuscan coast. "Preliminary indications" were that he had committed a "significant human error", the company said.
Captain Schettino is facing charges of multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a disaster, and has been taken into custody. He claims that the reef had not appeared on the nautical charts or the ship's navigation systems, and denies abandoning his passengers.
When the head waiter eventually reached land after evacuating the ship, he reportedly told friends and relatives on Giglio that he would "never have imagined that I'd end up disembarking on my own island like this".
The Corriere della Sera said Tievoli was "tormented by a sense of guilt", even though he did not request the sail-past.
His 82-year-old father, Giuseppe Tievoli, who lives on Giglio, told the newspaper: "Antonello called me earlier to say the ship would be passing by the island at around 9.30 and they would come and give us a whistle to say hello. It was something they often did.
"The ship obviously came too close. I don't know if Antonello asked the captain to come near, but the responsibility is always and only the captain's.
"It was only coincidence my son was on board. He was supposed to have disembarked at Savona (on a cruise the week before), but the person who was supposed to replace him wasn't well, so he had to stay on board."
Hopes are fading of finding any more survivors on board the partially submerged 17-deck ship, which slipped on a rocky shelf under the sea overnight, sparking fears that the giant hulk could sink entirely.
Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini warned that "urgent action" was needed as the wreck posed a serious risk to the area around Giglio, while that mayor said it was an "ecological timebomb" as there were 2380 tonnes of fuel on board.
Crews put down anti-spill booms as fears of a leak rose and local officials called for strict curbs in the future on shipping routes through the area of outstanding natural beauty.
- The Age
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