Captain guided by ‘divine hand’

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jan 28 concordia sink 6 AP A luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Photo: AP

Rome - The captain of a cruise ship that ran aground in January killing 32 people said a “divine hand” had guided him and saved lives the night of the disaster, as he was released from house arrest on Thursday.

As the ship was about to hit rocks off the Italian coast “a divine hand surely touched my head,” Francesco Schettino said in a letter to his lawyers which was published by Italian media on Thursday.

“If I had continued on that path the ship's prow would have hit the rock. It would have been carnage,” he said.

Schettino's comments came after Italian judges released him from house arrest but said he must not leave his home town while his trial continues.

“Captain Francesco Schettino is no longer under house arrest, but must stay in his home town” near Naples, one of his lawyers, Paolo Bastianini, told AFP.

The captain and eight others are under investigation following the tragedy off Giglio Island on the night of January 13, when the luxury Costa Concordia hit rocks and capsized with 4,229 people from dozens of countries on board.

iol nws feb 18 Francesco Schettino Francesco Schettino, captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the small Italian island of Isola del Giglio. AP

The captain is accused of causing the accident by sailing too close to the shore, then delaying the evacuation and abandoning ship before everyone had been rescued as the giant liner toppled over in icy waters.

In the letter, Schettino repeated claims that it was his skilled manoeuvring that stopped the boat from hitting the rock head on, thereby limiting the damage caused. He also denied the crash was due to his state of mind.

“There are those who say the impact with the stern was caused because I was suffering from a hallucination. What hallucination! It was rather my instinct, my skills, the ability to know the sea and suddenly change direction,” he said.

“The dilemma was whether to evacuate or not. Evacuating over 4,000 people from a boat in motion has its risks. To do it would have been almost a liberation for me, but my conscience meant I could not do it lightheartedly.”

The trial's head prosecutor, Francesco Verusio, told ASCA news agency: “Schettino is playing his game, but it will be the judge to decide how things went that night.”

Lawyer Bastianini said his client would have to remain in Meta di Sorrento but “will no longer be bound by the conditions linked to his house arrest.”

Schettino, who was placed under house arrest in February because magistrates in the Tuscan town of Grosseto feared he was a flight risk, had been banned from speaking to anyone apart from his lawyer and close family.

“He is a free man. He could go to the seaside today, if he wants. But he won't. He is also at liberty to communicate, but he won't. I have given him strict orders not to leave the house or speak to anyone,” Bastianini said.

In their request for Schettino's liberty, his lawyers said he had “behaved in an irreproachable manner for the whole period he has been under duress.”

A court hearing is due on July 21 at which the full results of technical analysis of the cruiser's black box and other instruments will be revealed.

The Costa Concordia is still lying on its side off Giglio Island in Tuscany. - Sapa-AFP

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