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Survivor says Concordia captain made a 'tragic error'

From Livia Borghese, for CNN
February 1, 2012 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
The wrecked ship Costa Concordia lies grounded in front of Giglio island.
The wrecked ship Costa Concordia lies grounded in front of Giglio island.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manrico Giampedroni was on Concordia's bridge when the ship ran aground
  • He said he thought it was too close to shore, "but the captain drives the ship"
  • Giampedroni was the last survivor found aboard the stricken cruise liner

Grosseto, Italy (CNN) -- The captain of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia "committed a tragic error," but his crew did their best to evacuate the ship's 3,200 passengers, the last survivor found aboard said Wednesday.

Manrico Giampedroni, one of the ship's officers, said he was on the darkened bridge with Capt. Francesco Schettino when the Concordia hit the rocks off the Mediterranean island of Giglio the night of January 13. He broke a leg as the liner rolled and was found 36 hours later in a half-flooded dining room, suffering from hypothermia.

"All of the members of the crew did their best. They made a good job, everybody," he told CNN before his release from the hospital. But, he said, Schettino "committed a tragic error. Maybe he was too confident in his skills, and he relied too much on his knowledge of the ship."

At least 17 people died when the Concordia ran aground and settled sideways on the sea bottom off Giglio, with half of the vessel still sticking out of the shallow water. Another 15 remained unaccounted for more than two weeks after the accident.

Giampedroni was the ship's purser, the officer in charge of passenger accommodations and food service. He also oversaw the evacuation that followed Concordia's grounding.

Schettino had invited him to the bridge to watch as he steered the ship past Giglio in what the captain called "a salute" to the island town, Giampedroni told reporters on his way out of the hospital. About a half-dozen people were on the bridge, which was darkened for night operations.

He said he thought the ship was passing too close to the island, "but the captain drives the ship. He knows very well where he should pass."

"In this occasion, we cannot say, 'Captain, we are too near the coast.' We cannot say that. In this case, it is best only to watch and nothing else."

Schettino has said that after the impact, he ran the ship aground to keep it from sinking and limit its list.

The captain is under house arrest on suspicion of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers were still aboard. He denies the charges, saying his actions saved lives and dismissing prosecutors' suggestions that he was going too fast.

Critics have also questioned whether Schettino waited too long to give the order to abandon ship. Giampedroni said that decision was up to the captain -- but once given, "Everyone worked in the proper way."

"Consider that the ship was leaning very fast, it was a little difficult for us to put the people in safe, on the life boats," he said. Most of the 3,000-plus passengers and the ship's crew of about 1,000 made it safely off the ship in less than two hours, he said.

Giampedroni told CNN that he was hurt when he was heading back to the muster stations where passengers assembled to leave the ship.

"Muster station A was completely evacuated," he said. "I wanted to check if there was anyone left on muster station B. When I was going there, in the restaurant, I had the accident. The ship was tilted, and it was easy to lose orientation."

Giampedroni was half-submerged in the chilly water flooding the restaurant when found. He said he survived by sipping at a soft drink that he caught as it floated by, since the contents had not been contaminated with salt water.

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