Shipwrecked Liner's Owner Blames Captain

The captain of the shipwrecked luxury liner just off the coast of Italy has been arrested and faces accusations of manslaughter, tampering with evidence and abandoning ship. He told a reporter that he was the last one to leave the ship, a claim immediately dismissed by prosecutors. A consumer protection association plans a class action lawsuit against the shipping company that owns the liner.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The death toll now stands at six after a cruise ship ran aground off Italy's Tuscan coast on Friday. Some 29 passengers and crew are still unaccounted for, including two Americans. Today, rough seas forced the suspension of rescue operations.

And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that the ship's Italian owner blames the accident on the captain, who's now under arrest.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: By mid-morning the Costa Concordia, which weighs some 115,000 tons, had slipped four inches vertically and half an inch horizontally. The ship is resting on a reef, but rough seas could detach it from the rocks and it could sink to the seabed.

Investigators say the 900-foot-long luxury liner, with 4,200 people on board, was just 150 yards off the rocky coast of Giglio Island when it hit a reef and started taking in water. It's believed that steering the ship so close to Giglio was part of a maritime practice, the equivalent of a fly-by. With sirens blasting, it's a salute to show off the brightly lit luxury liner to the islanders.

At a press conference today at Costa shipping company headquarters in Genoa, the grim-faced CEO, Pier Lugi Foschi, said Captain Francesco Schettino took an initiative contrary to company guidelines.

PIER LUGI FOSCHI: (Through translator) We disassociate ourselves from this behavior, which caused the accident by making the ship veer off its established course. This maneuver was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to the shipping company.

BYLINE: Captain Schettino is under arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter, shipwreck, tampering with evidence and abandoning ship. The captain did not send a mayday distress call until a full hour after the collision. But passengers had already alerted the Coast Guard with calls from their cell phones. Before he was detained Saturday evening, Schettino was interviewed by the Mediaset TV network.

FRANCESCO SCHETTINO: (Through translator) In such a particular moment, you need to be able to decide and to understand clearly what the best alternative is. In fact, I believe almost all the passengers were rescued.

BYLINE: Schettino said the ship hit rocks not marked on nautical maps, a claim dismissed by islanders and sailors with knowledge of the area. The reporter asked the captain about claims he had left the ship before all passengers had been evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There were more than 4,000 people. The captain is usually the last to abandon ship. What happened, captain?

SCHETTINO: (Through translator) We were the last to leave the ship.

BYLINE: This claim was firmly dismissed by prosecutor Francesco Verusio, who was asked by a reporter what has struck him most about the investigation so far.

FRANCESCO VERUSIO: (Through translator) It's the brazenness of the captain's maneuver which is really inexcusable.

BYLINE: Carlo Rienzi, president of a consumer protection association, has announced plans to file a class-action suit against the Costa shipping company on behalf of everyone who was on board the ship.

CARLO RIENZI: (Through translator) It's scandalous that Costa pins all the blame solely on the captain for the accident and what happened afterwards. If the crew was unprepared for an emergency, it's because they are low-skilled and paid low wages and not sufficiently trained. It's the shipping company's responsibility to fully reimburse everyone.

BYLINE: The Costa company could also be liable if the shipwreck triggers an environmental disaster, in what is said to be Europe's biggest marine nature reserve.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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