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Captain blamed in fatal cruise ship wreck

ROME -- Court-appointed experts have squarely blamed the captain of a cruise ship that ran aground off Italy for the wreckage and deaths of 32 people, but they also faulted the crew and ship owner for a series of blunders, delays and safety breaches that contributed to the disaster.

The Costa Concordia hit the rocky coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio Jan. 13 after Capt. Francesco Schettino took it off course and brought it close to the island as part of a stunt. He is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all passengers were evacuated.

The court in Grosseto ordered the expert investigation to help it determine who, if anyone, should be put on trial. A hearing is set next month.

In a 270-page analysis, the four experts described in second-by-second detail the unfolding disaster as Schettino slowly came to realize the gravity of the situation. Using data and voice recorders to reconstruct the drama on the bridge, the report showed Schettino failing to grasp for a good 45 minutes repeated reports from his crew that his ship was flooding and its motors were dead.

The analysis came out Wednesday and was placed online yesterday by the Rome daily La Repubblica.

"Madonna, what a mess I've made," Schettino muttered soon after the collision, according to the transcript.

Beyond Schettino's faults, the experts said a series of problems hobbled the execution of his initial maneuver and efforts to fix it, and contributed to the botched evacuation. Bridge crew members bungled directions and didn't understand his orders because of language barriers. Other crew members weren't trained or certified in security and emergency drills, the report found.

In all, the experts said, Schettino and his bridge crew showed "scarce professional seriousness" before and during the disaster, with Schettino joking just before the crash, after his helmsman again misunderstood an order, that he needed to do it right "otherwise we go on the rocks."

The experts said ship owner Costa Crociere bore blame, too, by delaying alerting coastal authorities, a charge Costa denied yesterday. Costa firmly rejected the experts' claims that the crew was unprepared.

Passengers described a confused and delayed evacuation. Some of the 4,200 people aboard jumped into the Mediterranean and swam to Giglio.

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