The captain of the Italian liner Costa Concordia said he was told by managers to take his ship close to shore on the night it ran aground and capsized, but the company denied having any prior knowledge of the manoeuvre.
The daily La Repubblica published transcripts of a conversation Captain Francesco Schettino had with a person identified only as Fabrizio in which he implicates an unnamed manager of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises.
Fabri ... anyone else in my place wouldn't have been so nice as to go there because they were breaking my balls, saying 'go there, go there', Schettino says in the conversation taped while he was being held following his arrest over the incident.
...the rock was there but it didn't show up in the instruments I had and I went there ... to satisfy the manager, 'go there, go there'.
The conversation, in a thick Neapolitan dialect which the transcription translates into standard Italian, was apparently taped without the knowledge of Schettino. It was posted on the website of the newspaper.
A source in the prosecutor's office said the transcript was genuine. Schettino's lawyer Bruno Leporatti did not dispute it but said his client should not be treated as a scapegoat.
Investigators say Schettino steered the 114,500-tonne vessel to within 150 metres of the shore to perform a manoeuvre known as a salute in which a ship makes a special display by coming in very close to land.
Taking a tourist ship close to shore is allowed under certain conditions and is a practice adopted by all the cruise ship companies around the world, Pier Luigi Foschi, chief executive of Costa Cruises, told the Senate on Wednesday.
In this case the company wasn't aware of such a manoeuvre, and the programme distributed to the cruise's passengers spoke of the ship passing Giglio island at a distance of five miles.
Schettino is under house arrest and is blamed for causing the accident by steering too close to shore. He is accused of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.
At least 16 people died when the cruise ship struck a rock which tore a hole in its side and caused it to capsize off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13.
Late on Wednesday authorities said they had identified three German men among the corpses found on the ship. Three bodies are still unidentified. Another 16 people remain unaccounted for.
Whether or not salute manoeuvres were encouraged by the ship's operators is one of the key questions in the investigation.
Costa Cruise's Foschi said it was common practice and is not dangerous by definition, but of course one cannot proceed at 16 knots there in that location.
The practice is a matter of discretion that must be planned, recorded in the ship's log beforehand and performed safely, but it is allowed, a Coast Guard source said on Wednesday.
Divers resumed their search on Wednesday after blasting four new holes to open up submerged interior space in the ship almost 12 days after the accident.
It's obvious that for all the time that has passed, and given the conditions, finding someone alive today would be a miracle, said Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil service agency, who is in charge of the state's emergency operations.
Salvage teams are continuing preparations to pump more than 2,300 tonnes of diesel fuel from the hulk, an operation expected to start by Saturday and last about a month.
Giulia Bongiorno, one of Italy's best-known criminal lawyers, is to represent passengers who are planning to seek damages from the cruise company.
Bongiorno represented Raffaele Sollecito when he was acquitted last year on appeal, with U.S. student Amanda Knox, of murdering Briton Meredith Kercher.
In the transcript published by La Repubblica, Schettino also suggests that he abandoned ship soon after realising that the vessel was listing dangerously.
During questioning by magistrates, Schettino said he fell into a lifeboat while investigating the state of the ship, which suffered an electrical blackout after it struck the rock. In the confusion, he had been unable to return to the ship.
Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise ship operator, has blamed the captain and suspended him. The company has begun disciplinary action against Schettino, a legal source told Reuters on Wednesday.
Neither the company nor individual executives, apart from Schettino and the ship's first officer, have been placed under investigation even though Schettino's lawyer has said that the probe will be extended to other parties.
(Additional reporting by Cristian Corvino and Ilaria Polleschi in Grosseto, Roberto Landucci in Rome, Emilio Parodi in Milan, and Laura Viggiano in Naples.; Writing By James Mackenzie and Steve Scherer; Editing by Giles Elgood and Robert Woodward)