THE CAPTAIN of the Costa Concordia was drinking and dining with a young blonde Moldovan woman just before his vessel ran aground off the island of Giglio, it has emerged.
Domnica Cemortan, a cruise ship passenger rep and former dancer, was also reported to have been on the bridge with Francesco Schettino on the night of the disaster.
Several passengers claimed they saw Mr Schettino and a woman resembling Miss Cemortan sharing a decanter of red wine shortly before the disaster.
On Thursday night investigators were trying to trace the 25-year-old as they believe she may be able to shed light on what happened when the cruise liner collided with a rocky outcrop off Giglio and capsized, leading to the loss of at least 11 lives.
Mr Schettino, 52, who is under house arrest in Meta di Sorrento near Naples, is accused of sailing too close to the island to give a ''salute’’ to an old friend and his head waiter’s family, and of later abandoning ship when hundreds of his passengers were still trapped on board.
The Italian media claimed Miss Cemortan had been invited on to the bridge on the night of the accident. She was said to have been there at the moment of impact. Earlier on Thursday, Miss Cemortan admitted that she had been on the bridge with Mr Schettino, who has a wife and daughter.
She insisted it was not until after the collision, when it is thought she may have been called on to help address the passengers in Russian. “I was on the bridge at 11.50pm and he was there,” Miss Cemortan told the Moldovan newspaper Adevarul (Truth).
Passengers suggested the pair had been enjoying dinner together half an hour before the Concordia careered into rocks and suffered a catastrophic gash in its hull.
An Italian couple, Angelo Fabbri and his wife Eleonora Rossi, inadvertently photographed the couple at 8.44pm as they took pictures of the dishes served to them in the Club Concordia restaurant. “Schettino, in a dark uniform, was seated in front of the woman,”
Mr Fabbri, from Savona in northern Italy, told an Italian newspaper. “She seemed young, first of all we thought she might be his daughter. They were laughing, they seemed very happy. There’s no doubt that they drank the whole decanter, the last drops were poured into the captain’s wine glass.”
According to the passengers, the captain, the woman and another officer sat down to a four course meal of prawn cocktail, rice with gorgonzola and asparagus, grilled swordfish and dessert, with the wine.
“They stayed until 9.05pm, I know that for sure because, to record the evening, we photographed the dishes and in one, timed at 9.02pm, the captain and the woman were still at the table,” said Mr Fabbri.
“He seemed to me a bit of a braggart, in contrast with other cruise captains that we’ve travelled with.”
The captain reportedly left the restaurant with the woman and the officer at 9.05pm, 37 minutes before the collision. He has insisted to investigators that he did not drink alcohol that night. Mr Schettino faces at least 12 years in jail if convicted of abandoning his ship and multiple counts of manslaughter.
Italian judicial authorities want to interview Miss Cemortan. It is believed she was not working on the Costa Concordia.
Interviewed by a Telegraph reporter on Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in Rome’s Fiumicino airport, she defended of the captain’s actions, saying he had saved lives by steering the ship towards Giglio’s harbour and grounding it close to the shore.
Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor, was not available for comment but a spokesman said he “could not confirm or deny” that Miss Cemortan was being sought for questioning.
- Nick Squires on Giglio and Victoria Ward in Meta di Sorrento