Italian authorities want to interview young woman Domnica Cemortan from Moldova, who was seeing dining with Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino, just before the Italian cruise ship ran aground. Ms Cemortan was seen on the bridge Friday night, having drinks with the captain, according to the UK’s Telegraph.
The 25-year-old blonde was invited onto the bridge as the cruise liner sailed perilously close to Giglio, in what was apparently a ‘salute’ to an old friend of the captain’s and a favour to the ship’s head waiter, whose family were from the island.
Italian judicial authorities, who are investigating the accident and the captain’s conduct, believe Ms Cemortan may be able to shed light on what happened on the bridge when the giant cruise ship collided with a rocky outcrop, ripping a massive gash in its hull.
Adding to the mystery, she was reportedly not on the official list of passengers and crews. Ms Cemortan, according to her Facebook page, was born in Chisinau, Moldova, and lives in Bucharest, Romania.
However, as news broke that Italian prosecutors wanted to talk to her, she apparently went online and changed her city of residence from ‘Bucharest, Romania’, to ‘Zanzibar, Tanzania’.
In interviews with a Moldovan television station, Jurnal TV, and a Moldovan newspaper, she said she was having dinner on the ship “with friends” at 21.30 on the night of the disaster.
She was later invited up to the bridge – it was not clear whether to enjoy the spectacle of the ship performing a “sail past” of Giglio or later, to help broadcast announcements to passengers in Russian.
Evacuating the stricken liner was a terrifying experience, she said. “It was dark. I found an exit by finding fluorescent lines that guided me. I could hear all sorts of objects falling. People were screaming.”
She managed to get off the boat at 23.50 on Friday night. “The captain was still on deck,” she said. Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the case, was not available for comment but a spokesman said he “could not confirm or deny” that Ms Cemortan was being sought for questioning.
Ms Cemortan was interviewed by a journalist from The Sunday Telegraph on Saturday at the Hilton Hotel in Rome’s Fiumicino airport, as the thousands of passengers who escaped from the ship started to fly home.
She offered a staunch defence of the captain’s actions, saying he had saved lives by steering the stricken ship towards Giglio’s tiny harbour and grounding it close to the shore.
“Look at how many people are alive because of him. It’s a tragedy that people are missing, but he saved over 3,000 people on that ship because of his actions,” said Ms Cemortan. She claimed that Capt Schettino was still on the bridge at 11.50pm.
“I saw him there, before I managed to get off the ship. He did not abandon ship before everyone else. He would not have done that. He knows what his duty is.
“He is one of the best captains in the company. He is very skilful and experienced when it comes to manoeuvring the ship in enclosed spaces, like harbours.”
It is believed that Ms Cemortan has worked for Costa Cruises in the past, as a dancer and passenger rep, but went on the cruise last week as a holiday.
The death toll currently stands at 11, with 21 others still missing. The search for the others was suspended on Wednesday after the ship slipped further into the water, with no set time for when the search will resume.
Schettino, who is currently under house arrest, had begun by claiming everything was fine, shortly before the ship keeled over off the Tuscan coast with 4,200 on board, according to the timings of the recording.
Italians are venting spleen against Schettino with T-shirts, Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags urging him to “Get Back On Board, For F****’s Sake”.