Woman With Ship Captain Defends His Actions

Published January 19, 2012 5:54PM (EST)

ROME (AP) — A young Moldovan woman who says she was with the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship after it rammed into a Tuscan reef emerged as a potential new witness Thursday in the investigation into the captain's actions that night.

Crew members and passengers have said Capt. Francesco Schettino ate dinner with a woman in the ship's restaurant Friday night, and Italian news reports have said prosecutors want to interview her.

Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, is under house arrest, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship. Ship owner Costa Crociere SpA says he made an unauthorized deviation from the ship's programmed course that brought him too close to the reefs off the tiny island of Giglio. The ship capsized a few miles away in Giglio's port, forcing the chaotic evacuation of the 4,200 people on board.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing.

Divers resumed searching for the missing Thursday as a new audiotape emerged of the Concordia's first communication with port officials who inquired about what was wrong. In the tape, an officer insists the ship had only experienced a blackout — comments that came a full 30 minutes after the ship rammed violently into the reef.

Dominica Cermotan, a 25-year-old Moldovan hostess who said she was working for Costa on the Concordia, said on her Facebook page that she wasn't on duty the night of the grounding but was with Schettino, other officers and the cruise director on the bridge. She said she was called to help with translations of instructions for how the small number of Russian passengers should evacuate.

"We were looking for them, searching for them (the Russians)," she said in an interview with Moldova's Jurnal TV. "We heard them all crying, shouting in all languages."

She defended Schettino, saying "he did a great thing, he saved over 3,000 lives," and added he stayed on deck until 11:50 p.m.

The ship hit the reef at 9:45 p.m.

Prosecutor Francesco Verusio declined to comment on whether he was seeking Cermotan as a witness, citing the ongoing investigation.

Costa said in a statement that a woman embarked on the ship earlier Friday in the port of Civitavecchia. Without providing her name, Costa said the woman was registered with the ship and that the company was prepared to provide to authorities both her identity and paperwork for the ticket.

By Salon Staff

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