ROME — A young Moldovan crew member who translated evacuation instructions from the bridge after the Costa Concordia ran into a reef emerged as a potential new witness Thursday in the investigation into the captain's actions that fateful night.
Italian media have said prosecutors want to interview 25-year-old Dominica Cermotan, who had worked for Costa as a hostess but was not on duty when she boarded the ship Jan. 13 in the Roman port of Civitavecchia.
The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-marked rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio after the captain made an unauthorized diversion Jan. 13 from his programmed route. The ship then keeled over on its side and is still half-submerged nearly a week later.
In interviews with Moldovan media and her own Facebook page, Cermotan said she was called up to the bridge of the Concordia after it struck the reef to translate evacuation instructions to Russian passengers. She defended Capt. Francesco Schettino, who has been vilified in the Italian media for leaving his ship before everyone was evacuated safely.
"He did a great thing, he saved over 3,000 lives," she told Moldova's Jurnal TV.
Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship, is under house arrest, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead in the disaster and 21 others are still missing.
Divers resumed searching for the missing Thursday as a new audiotape emerged of the Concordia's first communication with port officials who inquired about what was wrong. In the tape, an officer insists the ship had only experienced an electrical blackout — comments that came a full 30 minutes after the ship rammed violently into the reef.
Cermotan said on her Facebook page that she wasn't on duty the night of the grounding but was with Schettino, other officers and the cruise director on the bridge. She said she was called up from dinner to help with translations of instructions for how the small number of Russian passengers should evacuate.
"We were looking for them, searching for them (the Russians)," she told Jurnal. "We heard them all crying, shouting in all languages."
She said Schettino had stayed on deck until 11:50 p.m., when he ordered her into a lifeboat; the ship hit the reef at 9:45 p.m.
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio declined to comment on whether he was seeking Cermotan as a witness, citing the ongoing investigation.
Without providing her name, Costa said the woman was registered with the ship and that the company was prepared to provide to authorities both her identity and paperwork for the ticket.
Divers, meanwhile, were focusing on an evacuation route on ship's fourth level, now about 18 meters (60 feet) below the water's surface, where five bodies were found earlier this week, Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TG 24. Crews set off small explosions Thursday to blow holes into hard-to-reach areas for easier access by divers.
Also Thursday, seven of the dead were identified by authorities — four French passengers, one Spanish and one Italian passenger and one Peruvian crew member. Italian passenger Giovanni Masia, who news reports said would have turned 86 next week, was buried in Sardinia.
Italian authorities have identified 32 people who have either died or are missing: 12 Germans, seven Italians, six French, two Peruvians, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India and Spain.
The ship's sudden movement on the reef Wednesday had postponed the start of a weekslong operation to extract the half-million gallons of fuel on board the vessel. Italy's environment minister issued a fresh warning Thursday about the implications if the ship shifts and breaks any of its now-intact oil tanks.
"We are very concerned" about the weather, minister Corrado Clini told Mediaset television. "If the tanks were to break, the fuel would block the sunlight from getting to the bottom of the sea, making a kind of film, and that would cause the death of the marine system."