The captain of the shipwrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia is reportedly making eyebrow-raising statements to authorities, including that he "tripped" into a lifeboat and that the cruise ship ended up in shallow water because he "ordered the turn too late."
Meanwhile, family and neighbors are coming to the defense of a man they say has been pilloried by the media.
The BBC, citing a leaked interrogation transcript, reports that Capt. Francesco Schettino said he was "navigating by sight" and ordered -- too late -- for the ship to be turned: "I don't know why it happened."
That follows reports that the captain told a judge he had tripped on the tilting vessel and "ended up in one of the boats."
As Sarah Delaney earlier reported in The Times from Rome, court documents show Schettino admitted making an error in the maneuver that brought the ship within 150 yards of the coast. But Schettino was convinced that he had saved lives by then taking the crippled vessel even closer to shore to aid efforts to rescue passengers.
The search for bodies on the partially submerged vessel was suspended temporarily Wednesday after a slight shift in the ship's position was detected.
The Toronto Star reports Schettino is being called a "hero" in his hometown near Naples, citing Naples newspaper Il Mattino. A neighbor said the captain had "saved more than 4,000 people."
Those involved in the wreck, including the captain, have noted the pandemonium on the ship at the time. As writer Beverly Beyette notes in The Times: "Muster drill instructions were available on TVs in the Concordia's staterooms and on stateroom doors. But mayhem was almost inevitable, travel industry experts say, because it was dark and the ship was tilted."
The cruise industry has grown steadily over the last few years, The Times' Hugo Martin writes, thanks in part to an improving economy and the construction of new ships, including "mega-ships" equipped with shops and nightclubs. But the wreck could put a damper on this $40-billion industry.
--Amy Hubbard and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: In this photo taken on Saturday and made available Wednesday, Francesco Schettino, right, the captain of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, is taken into custody by police in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. Credit: Giacomo Aprili / Associated Press