Cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino, accused of abandoning the Costa Concordia too soon after the liner struck rocks off the Tuscan coast last week, told Italian investigators that he tripped into one of the lifeboats while aiding in the evacuation.

'I was trying to get people to get into the boats.'

During the three-hour hearing on Tuesday, Captain Schettino, already under suspicion for manslaughter in sinking the ship and for abandoning passengers, now claims that he left the sinking vessel purely by accident.

The pasengers were pouring on to the decks, taking the lifeboats by assault, La Repubblica quoted him as saying.

Schettino claimed he didn't even have a life jacket on during the evacuation, as he had given it to one of the Concordia's passengers.

I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion, he asserted.

Then, according to Schettino, disaster struck.

Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60-70 degree angle, I tripped and I ended up in one of the boats, he said. That's how I found myself in the lifeboat.

Claims Stuck in Lifeboat For An Hour

When asked why he did not simply climb back onto the Cost Concordia once he fell in the lifeboat (after all, passengers like Seamus and Carol Moore were forced to scale back up the side of the ship when their lifeboat was overfilled), Schettino insisted there was no way for him to return.

But he also claimed, in what was perhaps an attempt to gain the sympathy of the Italian court, that he was unable to escape once he was in the lifeboat.

I was unable to lower the boat into the sea, because the space was blocked by other boats in the water, he said.

Schettino claims he was stuck there for an hour before being lowered into the water near Giglio Island.

'I was a victim of my instincts.'

Captain Schettino did, however, admit that he was at fault for the cruise ship's sinking.

According to court reports, Schettino was moving towards Giglio because he wanted to perform a salute for a friend.

I made a mistake on the approach, he told the judge and investigators on the case. I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well, and I had done this manuever three or four times.

But this time, I ordered the turn too late, and I eneded up in water that was too shallow, he continued.

I don't know why it happened. I was a victim of my instincts.

'It was abject cowardice.'

Fellow captains and mariners who have heard Schettino's story, however, feel it's more likely the captain was victim of his own self-serving, both in the accident and its aftermath.

Some people panic, but a short time later that they collect their senses and do the right thing, said Professor Craig Allen, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard in New London, Conn. It was abject cowardice.

Though Italy demands by law that a captain be last to leave his ship, many other countries acknowledge it as an unwritten rule of sea navigation.

Those who obey that maritime law are immortalized. Those who do not are an insult to captains everywhere.

I'm totally embarrassed by what he did, Captain Jim Staples, docked near New Orleans, told CBS.

He's given the industry a bad name, he's made us all look bad. It's shameful.

'He looked like a beaten dog.'

Ottavio Brizzi, a taxi driver on the island of Giglio, said he was there to pick the Concordia's captain up when he landed, and took him to the Bahamas Hotel.

He didn't say very much, apart from asking me where he could buy some dry socks, Brizzi said. He looked very cold and scared. He looked like a beaten dog.

Fourteen people have been confirmed dead in the Costa Concordia cruise ship sinking. Eleven of them have so far been identified.