Captain Schettino was in charge of the luxury cruise liner when it ran aground and capsized off the Italian coast on January 13, with more than 4000 people, including 23 Australians, on board.
32 people died that night, and Captain Schettino has now been holed up near the seaside town of Sorrento for six months.
He has been release from house arrest, but faces multiple manslaughter charges, as well as charges of negligence and abandoning his ship.
Now he has finally broken his silence in an exclusive interview.
Six months since that fateful night, what was the motivation for the Captain to talk to us? A lot of people will be suspicious of his motives, especially with a trial coming up soon.
“To me this is just a chance to present my face - of course to pay a tribute, to express my sympathy to all the persons that lost their life on that awful night, and that they lost their loved ones, and for me this is a chance to express them my sympathy,” he said.More stories from Today Tonight
“And because the story was built up in a way let's say, that the issues was a little bit affected, or if I may say biased by some misinformation from the way this story has been presented to the public, this is the main reason.”
According to the Captain “the main bias is coming from because this was in news that was very provoking, and the ‘wow effect’ and everybody that was (saying) ‘the captain is leaving his ship before the ship sinks’ of course is something that is unacceptable. What I believe was provoke that because people they limited their information to surface of the story, nobody went in deep to try to understand more.”
So does that mean that what we're reading and what the prosecutors are saying is wrong?
“No, no, no, no, I don’t want to mention that because I leave to anybody as to do that. I'm not talking regarding the prosecutors or the magistrate, I was referring to those that they give the ability, the information and the way the information was presented to the public.”
In his own words the Captain has said that a divine hand surely touched his head, and that if he would have continued, the result would have been carnage. But what does he mean by that? Is 32 people dead not carnage?
“No, that is. Even one is more than enough of course, and that is a way for me just to say that at the very last moment, I realised that we were completely heading into rock, and my instinct told me better you go to starboard because something is wrong here,” he explained.
Does he therefore admit that what happened that night was human error?
“Misunderstanding in between men, interacting one together, I realise that at the last minute.”
And therefore as captain he is the one that has to accept responsibility?
“Of course, and I never deny that, but now that we have downloaded the black box if I may say, the record, I understand that I have to prove that in that moment I made the right choice - turning hard to starboard and then going to port too, you use the swinging of the stern that was approaching fast to this rock,” he said.
The key question is why was the Concordia sailing so close to shore? Was it (as some say) doing a sail past as a "salute" to a former captain living on Giglio Island? And if so, who ordered it?
“It was very well planned in advance, a very safe distance. The navigation was very well planned to execute a flyby, but not so close at 0.5 nautical miles from the coast,” he explained. “Let's say there was a team working, interacting together, and let's say we failed to follow exactly the course.”
Was he on the bridge when the ship hit the reef?
“Yes. I don’t want to go into deep in this, I don’t want to interfere with the dynamic.”
Was he in control when the ship hit the rocks?
“Over the accident, because I don't want to speak late on this, because it's not a seaman's style, and for me we have also an investigation going on, and I don’t want any speculation on that, with full respect of all the investigation.”
Was he on the phone to a retired captain at the time of the incident? Was he distracted?
“No I was not distracted at all, I was simply talking, as I was used to do because sometimes also we used to do that.”
Had he been drinking?
“No, not at all.”
Was he taking drugs?
“I've never ever been that person addicted to drugs, I don't know nothing about that,” he said while laughing.
In the days after the tragedy questions were raised about why Captain Schettino was entertaining a 25-year-old dancer on the bridge.
So was Dominica Chimortan on the boat that night?
“This is simply a ghost because, I keep, I would like to keep the value of the conversation elevated, the value of the conversation,” he said.
“It's not true, because she was outside waiting for me and the other guy. They were going out and simply she was there waiting.”
Survivors like Michelle and Katherine Barraclough remember the moment the lights went out.
“Two or three times they came over the announcement and said everything was just perfectly fine and it was just an electrical fault - nothing to worry about. People were running up and down the halls with lifejackets,” Katherine recalled.
Then the chaos exploded 45 minutes later when the order to abandon ship finally came.
“The Italians were sort of going totally crazy, and they were screaming and running around crying and calling people on their mobile phones. It was just total chaos,” Michelle said.
“The biggest thing that kept coming into my mind was there was no one organising anything, and there was no one giving any orders.”
So why exactly was the evacuation process so crazy?
“When you have a blackout all the passengers they are scared, so you have to try and calm them down. You have to manage the crisis that can arise. The person - the passenger - they can become hysterical. For me it was very, very important to calm them down with an announcement,” the Captain said.
For the Barracloughs “the most terrifying thing was we kept looking around (thinking) ‘where are the officers? Where is the Captain? Who's organising this?’ And there was no one to be seen.”
As we know today, Captain Schettino had abandoned the Costa Concordia.
So why did he evacuate before all of the other passengers had left?
“I have to clarify this point. As long as the ship sinks even, parallel, without any angle of illing, and you have the time to count all the passengers, and to start all the procedures, then it is more easy to do it. But this situation was all of a sudden worsening fast. It was not feasible for none of us that were on the capsized side that by the moment it's under the water,” he said.
Did he abandon his ship?
“No, I didn't abandon the ship. This is completely wrong. The ship was flipping over on its side and you had no other option than to go on the boat or to die at sea,” he said.
“It is a grounded ship and the reason why that's there is that they have the feeling that I left the ship and abandoned the people there because I have created the grounding condition of the ship. If I would not have done that the ship would have sunk completely and in that case I would have been the last one to leave.”
So does that mean that had he not grounded the ship, many more people would have died?
“Of course. Of course. And this was my plan - to ground the ship. So I knew in advance it would not have sunk. Otherwise if you want to be the hero to remain on board - to me it was easier to go on the left side and remain there. It was the easiest thing to do,” he said.
The ‘captain’s code’ says he should have been the last man standing on the boat. Clearly he was not.
“I was willing to do that, but I was on the wrong side of the ship. You know if you have an earthquake and the soil collapses under your feet may I say you abandoned your building? The concept is clear, and I don't understand why they're so stubborn that they cannot understand this,”
As for being called ‘Captain Coward’, commonly known as the most hated man in Italy, Captain Schettino says “for me it's simply not true, and I know that it's not true. I would like to understand the reason why they are saying that because I don't - if you are really someone who is a coward then in that case you don't have the courage to execute a plan.”
The phone conversation between the Captain and the coast guard commander, that took place as the rescue operation was in full swing, is perhaps the most damning of all. Even the Captain himself admits it paints him as a coward.
“Listen Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea but I take a very dim view of this. I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board for f*$k’s sake,” the commander warned in the recorded conversation.
“I want to tell the public I am not the person that you made me out to be - because a captain cannot be like this. Because the sea fosters the growing of the conscience, of the loyalty, the sea shapes a man, it cannot shape a coward because if you are a coward you cannot manoeuvre a ship with fourteen knots or fifteen knots,” Captain Schetinno said.
“The reason why I am also having this interview is because, for representing all of my colleagues, because a captain after many years at sea cannot be a coward.”
Does he think about those who lost their lives that night, the 32 people who died?
“Of course, of course,” he said.
“It's a very painful event because I am used to welcome people, I am used to wave them bye bye. I am not used to leaving an appointment in the next life - do you get what I mean? But we have to understand that all of the crew - we did our best, and unfortunately the accident was evolving so fast that we, or I, had no other option for safely evacuating the remaining passengers. Bbecause I believe that this was a massive rescue operation - evacuate 4000 and more souls from an ailing and sinking ship. It is not an easy task.”
According to the Captain “whether or not to abandon ship for a captain is a very delicate - a momentous decision. You take it wisely and you - it's not that you (just say) ‘ok let's abandon the ship’ - you have to think about it. You have to be sure about it.”
What does he say to the families of those who've lost their loved ones?
“Ok this is my intention as I was saying to you before, that to meet those persons and as captain, I feel sorry for everything, but in that moment that you have an accident, it's so unexpected one. I would have accepted another accident that is while you are manoeuvring the ship - in that case I would say ‘I have overestimated myself’ or ‘I underestimated the weather condition’ and in that case if you have an accident you say ‘ok I deserve it’ but this was an accident that could have been avoided for sure.”
Does he think he will go to jail?
“This is not up to me. I would like, as I said in interview, we should make a difference between a crime and a maritime accident. These are two separate things. You are a professional and this is something that can happen to anybody.
“Even if one person dies - you are responsible for that - this is normal, but if you compare the personage of the casualties, comparing the number of the souls on board, I believe and I can tell you that somebody that night was doing an excellent job. So we need to thank the crew - they were doing their job, they were rescuing the people and thanks to those crew members, most of the passengers were rescued,” he said.
How many tears has he shed in the last six months?
“You know, I am a very discreet as a person and I don't really believed in exploiting the pain that you have can change nothing, so this is something that I have learnt to live up with, and I will have this sorrow for all of my life. The end of story - the ship will be rebuilt. Insurance will pay for the ship - the pain will be - for those that have lost their loved ones in this accident, and for a captain that lost his ship, to be the hated man, to be the most hated man for nothing, also this is not acceptable. But more painful is the feeling that you experience when the captain lose your ship, and in the moment that I said to abandon the ship, because I was really taking care of the persons,” he said.
“I didn't succeed but I feel sorry for that, but if I had five more minutes I could have, and my plan was good,” he concluded.This reporter is on Twitter at @MattWhite_7
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