Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship which crashed into rocks off the coast of Tuscany in early 2012 killing 32 people, lowered his gaze Monday in court as a recording was played of a heated phone conversation the night of the wreck between him and the port authority chief.
"Get back on board, dammit," the order made by coastguard commander Gregorio De Falco to Schettino, which became a memorable sound byte in news reports, was played in a Tuscan courtroom as Schettino lowered his gaze and waved a sheet of paper about as he spoke to one of his lawyers.
Schettino is on trial in Grosseto for multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship with passengers still on board.
De Falco took the stand on Monday and told the court that on the evening of January 13, 2012, "while the ship reassured us that all was well on board, the Prato carabinieri police told us that a relative of a passenger had called to say that there were no lights on board, that passengers had been told to put on their life jackets and that things were falling over. This made us think that the situation was more serious, (but) no one from the Concordia called us to ask for help."
The Coast Guard commander added that the captain had admitted to serious problems only after being repeatedly contacted from land. "At 10:38 p.m. the ship issued distress signals," testified De Falco.
That was almost one hour after the crash, which occurred at 9:45 p.m.
"I called the ship because the situation seemed more worrisome than what they had claimed," De Falco continued. "It was only after this that they admitted there was a leak and not only a black-out. We then sent out boats and helicopters," as part of a rescue operation.
De Falco testified that he tried unsuccessfully to convince the captain of the Costa Concordia to return to his duties and help passengers on the sinking cruise ship.
Schettino maintains he "tripped and fell" into a lifeboat. He spoke frequently with his defense team as De Falco told his version of events on the witness stand, shaking his head and smiling nervously. The captain has repeatedly insisted on his innocence.
The disaster occurred when an allegedly rash maneuver by Schettino resulted in the Concordia hitting a rock reef as the ship sailed close to Giglio Island to 'salute' local people.
Schettino is suing to get his job back after being dismissed by Costa Cruises.
The Costa Concordia was raised to an upright position in an unprecedented salvage operation last September.