Costa Concordia captain lashes out on shipwreck return

Italian captain Francesco Schettino lashed out at a media "frenzy" on Thursday after his first return to the Costa Concordia, saying people who accused him of abandoning the ship had not understood "a bloody thing".

"There is a frenzy that is making me nervous," Schettino told reporters in the port on Giglio Island off Tuscany where his luxury cruise liner crashed on January 13, 2012 in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.

"You have to respect civility. I don't have anything against you but if you provoke me," the infamous captain said in increasingly angry remarks accompanied by gesticulation and nervous pacing on the dockside.

Asked why he had left the ship before all the passengers had been evacuated, Schettino shouted: "You're still talking about abandoning the ship! It means you haven't understood a bloody thing!"

Schettino's visit was part of a court-ordered inspection in the ongoing trial against him for manslaughter and abandoning ship -- a charge that earned him the tabloid nickname "Captain Coward".

In a recorded phone call from that dramatic night, a senior coast guard official was heard shouting at Schettino: "Get back on board, for fuck's sake!"

Schettino says that he fell onto a lifeboat as the ship keeled over and then stayed on dry land because he wanted to coordinate the evacuation from there.

"The ship contains a lot of little secrets. We have to understand what happened in a proper and honest way," said Schettino, who had his hair slicked back and was dressed in sunglasses and a leather jacket.

"Other people have plea-bargained but I'm putting my face here!" Schettino said, touching his face, using an Italian expression for making a personal commitment.

Schettino, who was himself refused a plea bargain, said: "The trial will clear everything up".

Five people including Roberto Ferrarini, the director of ship owner Costa Crociere's crisis unit, and Jacob Rusli Bin, the Indonesian helmsman, have plea-bargained.

Explaining his delay in giving the order for the evacuation of the ship, Schettino said it was done to "avoid panic" among the 4,229 people on board.

"You have to put yourself in people's shoes at the time it happened," Schettino said, explaining that he had given "precise indications" to the technical experts during a more than three-hour tour of the ship.

- 'Confronting the whole world' -

The Costa Concordia, which was carrying people from 70 countries including many on the first night of a Mediterranean cruise, crashed into rocks just off Giglio as it attempted a risky "salute" manoeuvre.

It capsized near the shoreline but was righted last year in the biggest salvage operation of its kind and is due to be towed away for scrapping in June.

Schettino returned to the island on Tuesday for the first time since that night after being given a special dispensation by the judge at his trial to attend the visit, following a request from his defence lawyers.

Except for a fish dinner on Tuesday night, he has been hiding from the media glare in a house on a cobbled side street near the port in a picturesque fishing community that numbers only a few hundred people.

Islanders reacted with mixed emotions to his presence, with some saying that they felt sympathy for someone they consider a "scapegoat" for wider blame and others saying both he and the ship should go away.

"When the spotlights are turned on, the pain of this event returns. The relatives of the victims and the people of Giglio need an explanation of what happened," said Sergio Ortelli, the mayor.

Ortelli said he hoped the salvage operation would finish "as soon as possible", adding: "This island wants to return to normality, to tourism" -- a major earner for residents in the summer months.

Thursday's technical inspection focussed on a lift where several of the victims died and an emergency generator which the defence says malfunctioned.

Schettino's lawyer Domenico Pepe said the captain's former employer Costa Crociere, the biggest cruise operator in Europe, had focussed the blame on him.

"It is very, very difficult because Schettino does not have the economic resources of Costa," he said.

"Schettino is confronting the whole world on his own."