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Cruise ship’s captain lost precious time, official says

By Peter Mayer

ROME — The wasting of a “precious hour” by the captain of the Costa Concordia jeopardized the timely evacuation of all those aboard the stricken cruise liner, a top Italian coast guard officer said Thursday.

The head of Italy’s Coast Guard corps, Adm. Marco Brusco, made the remarks during a briefing to a parliament committee on the January 13 accident.

“If Captain (Francesco) Schettino had not lost a precious hour … it would have been possible to lower the lifeboats with calm, put the people at ease,” Brusco said.

“Instead, the first important hour was lost. Work was carried out anxiously, he disappeared and contradictory orders were given,” Brusco told a Senate commission.

Schettino, who was taken into police custody a day after the disaster, remains under house arrest while prosecutors attempt to have him indicted on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all were evacuated.

Brusco said that while the responsibility of the shipwreck was “certainly” Schiattino’s, there was a need to understand “why other officers who were with him … remained silent” and did not try to stop him.

Schettino has acknowledged veering the vessel off course, causing it to hit some rocks near the island of Giglio, off Italy’s western coast.

Schettino insists he helped coordinate the evacuation, but was forced to do so from Giglio’s docks after slipping off the listing ship into a lifeboat.

More than 4,000 passengers and crew were aboard the ship at the time of the accident.

Earlier Thursday, divers resumed searching the Concordia shipwreck.

To date, 16 people have been confirmed dead; about 20 remain unaccounted for.

Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection service, said Thursday he believed “there is no hope of finding anyone still alive” from the shipwreck.

On Wednesday, the German government said three bodies recently recovered from the vessel had been identified as German citizens.

The removal of thousands of tons of potentially hazardous fuel from the Concordia’s tanks is expected to begin Saturday.

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