Audio: Cruise captain pleaded not to reboard ship

The cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, after running aground on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, on Friday evening. Italian naval divers on Tuesday exploded holes in the hull of a cruise ship that grounded near a Tuscan island to speed the search for 29 missing passengers and crew while the seas remain relatively calm.

ROME — Five more bodies were pulled Tuesday out of the crippled cruise ship off Tuscany, and a shocking audio emerged in which the ship’s captain was heard making excuses as the Italian coast guard repeatedly ordered him to return and oversee the ship’s evacuation.

Prosecutors have accused Capt. Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated during the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship Friday night.

The death toll nearly doubled to 11 on Tuesday when divers located five more bodies, all of them adults wearing life jackets, in the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point, according to Italian Coast Guard Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro. He said they were thought to have been passengers.

Prior to the discovery of the five bodies, the coast guard had raised the number of missing to 25 passengers and four crew. Italian officials gave the breakdown as: 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian.

But there was still confusion over the numbers, and the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin listed 12 Germans as confirmed missing.

The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 people when it hit a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio when Schettino made an unauthorized deviation from the cruise ship’s programmed course, apparently as a favor to his chief waiter, who hailed from the island.

Schettino has insisted that he stayed aboard until the ship was evacuated. However, a recording of his conversation with Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco that emerged Tuesday indicates he fled before all passengers were off — and then resisted De Falco’s repeated orders to return.

“You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?” De Falco shouted in the audio tape.

Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and that it was dark. At the time, he was in a lifeboat and said he was coordinating the rescue from there.

De Falco shouted back: “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

“You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ’Abandon ship,’ now I am in charge,” De Falco shouted.

Schettino was finally heard agreeing to reboard on the tape. But the coast guard has said he never went back, and had police arrest him on land.

The 52-year-old Schettino, described by the Italian media as a genial, tanned ship’s officer, has worked for 11 years for the ship’s owner and was made captain in 2006.

Schettino hails from Meta di Sorrento, in the Naples area, which produces many of Italy’s ferry and cruise boat captains. He attended the Nino Bixio merchant marine school near Sorrento.

A judge is to decide Tuesday if Schettino should stay jailed, as requested by prosecutors. He could face up to 12 years in prison on the abandoning ship charge alone.

Earlier Tuesday, Italian naval divers exploded holes in the hull of the grounded cruise ship, trying to speed up the search for the missing while seas were still calm. Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TV 24 the holes would help divers enter the wreck more easily.

“We are rushing against time,” he said.

The divers set four microcharges above and below the surface of the water, Busonero said. Television footage showed one hole above the waterline less than two meters (6 feet) in diameter.

“The hope is that the ship is empty and that the people are somewhere else, or if they are inside that they found a safe place to await rescue,” Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini told Sky TV 24.

Mediterranean waters in the area were relatively calm Tuesday with waves of just 12 inches (30 centimeters) but they were expected to reach nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) Wednesday, according to meteorological forecasts.

A Dutch shipwreck salvage firm, meanwhile, said it would take its engineers and divers two to four weeks to extract the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship. The safe removal of the fuel has become a priority second only to finding the missing, as the wreckage site lies in a maritime sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.

Smit, a Rotterdam, Netherlands-based salvage company, said no fuel had leaked from any of the ship’s tanks and that the tanks appeared intact. While there is a risk the ship could shift in larger waves, to date it has been relatively stable perched on top of rocks near Giglio’s port.

Smit’s operations manager, Kees van Essen, said the company was confident the fuel could safely be extracted using pumps and valves to vacuum the oil out to waiting tanks.

“But there are always environmental risks in these types of operations,” he told reporters.

Preliminary phases of the fuel extraction could begin as early as Wednesday if approved by Italian officials, the company said.

The company said any discussion about the fate of the ship — whether it is removed in one piece or broken up — would be decided by Italian ship operator Costa Crociere and its insurance companies.

The Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns the Italian operator, estimated that preliminary losses from having the Concordia out of operation at least through 2012 would be between $85 million and $95 million, along with other costs. The company’s share price slumped more than 16 percent Monday.

It was not yet clear if the ship — which was completed in 2006 — would ever be able to return to service.

Carnival said its deductible on damage to the ship was approximately $30 million. In addition, the company faces a deductible of $10 million for third-party personal injury liability claims.

Carnival said other costs related to the grounding can’t yet be determined.

Transcript: Cruise captain and Italian coast guard

Here is a translation of the transcript of the conversation between Capt. Francesco Schettino, commander of the grounded Costa Concordia, and Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard in Livorno.

In the conversation, De Falco repeatedly orders Schettino to return to the ship to oversee the evacuation, while Schettino resists, making excuses that it’s dark and that the ship is listing.

The audio was first made available on the website of Corriere della Sera, and the Italian coast guard confirmed its authenticity Tuesday to The Associated Press.

—De Falco: “This is De Falco speaking from Livorno. Am I speaking with the commander?”

—Schettino: “Yes. Good evening, Cmdr. De Falco.”

—De Falco: “Please tell me your name.”

—Schettino: “I’m Cmdr. Schettino, commander”

—De Falco: “Schettino? Listen Schettino. There are people trapped on board. Now you go with your boat under the prow on the starboard side. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I’m recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino...”

—Schettino: “Commander, let me tell you one thing...”

—De Falco: “Speak up! Put your hand in front of the microphone and speak more loudly, is that clear?”

—Schettino: “In this moment, the boat is tipping...”

—De Falco: “I understand that, listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow. You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to...really do something bad to you...I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, (expletive)!”

—Schettino: “Commander, please...”

—De Falco: “No, please. You now get up and go on board. They are telling me that on board there are still...”

—Schettino: “I am here with the rescue boats, I am here, I am not going anywhere, I am here...”

—De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

—Schettino: “I am here to coordinate the rescue...”

—De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?”

—Schettino: “No, I am not refusing.”

—De Falco: “Are you refusing to go aboard commander? Can you tell me the reason why you are not going?”

—Schettino: “I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped.”

—De Falco: “You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ’abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there.”

—Schettino: “Where are your rescuers?”

—De Falco: “My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino.”

—Schettino: “How many bodies are there?”

—De Falco: “I don’t know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ.”

—Schettino: “But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see anything...”

—De Falco: “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

—Schettino: “...I am with my second in command.”

—De Falco: “So both of you go up then ... You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?”

—Schettino: “Commander, I want to go on board, but it is simply that the other boat here ... there are other rescuers. It has stopped and is waiting...”

—De Falco: “It has been an hour that you have been telling me the same thing. Now, go on board. Go on board! And then tell me immediately how many people there are there.”

—Schettino: “OK, commander”

—De Falco: “Go, immediately!”