ROME (AP) — The captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia said in an interview broadcast Tuesday that he was distracted by a phone conversation shortly before the cruise liner crashed into a reef off an Italian island and capsized, killing 32 people.
Francesco Schettino described the collision to private Italian TV channel Canale 5 as a "banal accident" in which "destiny" played a role.
An Italian judge last week lifted Schettino's house arrest order, but said he must remain in his hometown near Naples during a criminal investigation in which he is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the liner while many passengers and crew were still aboard.
Prosecutors have alleged that the Concordia cruised too close to the island in a publicity stunt, and shortly before it rammed the reef Schettino was on the phone with a retired sea captain on Giglio.
"I blame myself for being distracted," Schettino said when asked about the phone call.
Schettino on Tuesday appeared to want to lessen his role, insisting that another official, and not he, was at the helm of the ship at the moment it rammed the reef.
"At that moment, I went up to the bridge. I ordered the navigation to be manual, and I didn't have the command. The navigation was being directed by a (lower) official," Schettino said
"This is a banal accident in which destiny found space right in the interaction among human beings," Schettino added, apparently referring to the various officials on the bridge involved in the maneuver.
He said that for a captain of a ship, "there is no measure of sorrow" for losing a vessel. However, he said "it's much less" painful than losing a child — a reference to a young Italian girl who was among the dead.
A court hearing later this month in Tuscany on evidence in the case, including information from the ship's "black box" data recorder, could shed light on what went wrong and on who or what is to blame, and likely will figure in a judge's decision on whether Schettino should be ordered to stand trial.
Schettino called the events in the accident "complex," saying "everyone has his own truth," about what happened.
In the interview, Schettino again insisted that by guiding the stricken ship to shallower waters near Giglio's port instead of immediately ordering an evacuation he potentially saved lives.
Passengers described a confused and delayed evacuation, with many of the life boats unable to be lowered after the boat listed to one side. Some of the 4,200 aboard jumped into the Mediterranean and swam to the island, while others had to be plucked from the vessel by rescue helicopters hours after the collision.
Some passengers said they were shocked to see that the captain was already ashore when they were being evacuated. Schettino claims he helped direct the evacuation from the island after leaving the ship.
Work has begun to remove the tons of rocky reef embedded into the Concordia's hull, a first step in plans to eventually tow the wreck away from the island.
The whole removal process could take as long as a year.