Passengers say captain left vessel while others were still aboard, as ship’s owners say he made an “error of judgment”.
|The owners of a cruise ship that ran aground off an Italian island, maritime authorities and passengers have raised questions about the conduct of the captain, amid accusations that he abandoned shipÂ before everyone was safely evacuated.The Costa Crociera company, which owns theÂ Costa ConcordiaÂ cruise ship, said that Captain Francisco Schettino appeared to have steered the vessel too close to the shore and had “made an error of judgment which has had serious consequences.”
“The route followed by the ship was too close to the coast and it seems decisions in emergency management have not followed procedures in line with those followed by Costa Crociere which in some cases go beyond international standards,” said the statement, released late on Sunday.
Authorities were holding Schettino for suspected manslaughter and aÂ prosecutor confirmed on Sunday they were also investigating allegations theÂ captain abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had escaped.
According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship inÂ danger can face up to 12 years in prison.
A French couple who boarded theÂ ConcordiaÂ in Marseille, Ophelie GondelleÂ and David Du Pays, said they saw the captain in aÂ lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off theÂ ship.
“The commander left before and was on the dock before everyone was off,”Â said Gondelle, 28, a French military officer.
Schettino is sticking to his claim that the rocks which sank the vessel were not marked on the nautical charts.
“I firmly believe that the rocks were not detected as the ship was not heading forward, but sideways,” he said in an interview. “I don’t know if it was detected or not, but on the nautical chart it was marked just as water, at some 100, to 150 meters from the rocks, and we were about 300 meters from the shore.”
More bodies found
The coast guard said on Sunday that the bodies of two elderly people had been found in the submerged restaurant of theÂ Costa ConcordiaÂ cruise ship.Â Â The Italian news agency ANSA reported the dead were an Italian and a Spaniard.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from the island of Del Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany,Â said the rescue operations were ongoing.
“Sometime this afternoon, two additional bodies – above the three we already knew had died – were found. Frankly, there are still more people that are likely to be inside [the ship].
“The mayor of this town, at lunchtime today, said 17 people remained unaccounted for: six crew and 11 passengers. The two bodies that have been found this afternoon will most likely reduce that 17 to just 15 unaccounted for. It is not a good day from the rescuers point of view.”
Rescue crews managed to evacuate to safety one passenger during the day on Sunday and two other survivors during a night-time operation on Saturday.
The 290-metre-longÂ Costa ConcordiaÂ began taking in water through a 50-metre hole in its hull and tilting on Saturday night after hitting underwater rocks, according to Italian coastguards.
Most of the 3,216 passengers and 1,013 crew members were evacuated to safety but dozens were injured in the accident, at least two of them seriously.
Two French tourists and Peruvian crew member were confirmed dead. Authorities fear the casualty figure could rise beyond that.
One of the victims was a man in his 70s who died of a heart attack caused by the shock to his system when he jumped into the icy waters, reports said.
Police divers, rescue crews and helicopters continued to circle the wreckage in an apparent search for other survivors.
Italian authorities said they were trying to find room to accommodate the rescued passengers, including pregnant women and children.