"Madonna, what have I done?" These are Captain Francesco Schettino's words seconds after the Costa Concordia struck rocks on Jan.13, 2012.
Recorded conversations from the bridge of the cruise liner published yesterday and today by La Stampa newspaper, suggest the disgraced captain deliberately minimized the scale of the accident, misinforming both the passengers and the Italian coastguard.
The disaster led to the deaths of 32 people.
Capt. Schettino is being investigated - the next hearing will start on Oct. 15 - on charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship and failing to communicate with maritime authorities.
Recordings retrieved from the ship's black box reveal conversations that almost sound like a farce.
"Amm'a fa' l'inchino al Giglio," ("Let's go to salute the Giglio island") Schettino said in Neapolitan dialect at 6.27 p.m., just after the liner departed from the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome, with more than 4,200 people on board.
The salute, or inchino as it is known in Italian, consisted in coming dangerously close to the shore line in order to sound a three-horn salute to the Giglio inhabitants and wow tourists as well.
Allegedly, the Costa Crociere vessels had done such a salute several times in the past without accident, but on January 13 Schettino steered the liner too close to shore, striking rocks and ripping a huge gash in the hull.
"Maro' ch'aggio cumbinato,"("Madonna, what have I done"), Schettino is heard saying - again in Neapolitan - at 9.45 p.m., just after the collision.
A series of frantic calls then followed. At 9:51 p.m., Capt. Schettino called Giuseppe Pillon, the officer in command of the ship's engine room, asking: "So are we really going down?"
Three minutes later, at 9:54 p.m., he ordered an officer not to tell passengers what really happened. "Say that there has been a blackout," he was heard saying.
At 9:56 p.m., Capt. Schettino called Costa Crociere's fleet crisis coordinator, Roberto Ferrarini.
"Roberto, I f-– up!," he said.
Schettino hesitated in either launching a distress call and giving the order to abandon ship.
At 10:30 p.m. officers on the bridge asked him in panic: "Captain, shall we give the general emergency signal? Shall we order to abandon ship?"
"Let's wait..." Schettino is heard saying.
At 10:32 p.m. Schettino phoned the Italian Coast Guard in Livorno. "Basically we are taking on water, but the sea is calm, God save us," Schettino said.
At 10:51 p.m., with chaos reigning the ship ("those on the bridge did not recall the emergency codes," reads the report) Captain Schettino finally said: "Come on, let's give the order to abandon ship, come on, that's enough!"
At 11:08 p.m., as a confused evacuation got under way, the Captain called his wife Fabiola.
"Fabi', my career as a captain is over. We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great maneuver... everything is under control," he is heard saying.
He then reassured her in Neapolitan dialect: "Fabi', nun te preoccupa'... togliamo questo navigare da mezzo e ci mettim a fa' nat lavoro...," which roughly translates: "Don't worry, let's forget all this sailing and we can start another job."
Photo: Capt. Francesco Schettino (right) with purser Manrico Giampedroni (left). Giampedroni was found trapped on the stricken vessel with a broken leg 36 hours after the disaster. Picture taken eight weeks before the disaster. Credit: Giancarlo Matteuzzi.