Costa Cruises Accident
Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground is seen off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, Jan. 14, 2012. At least three people were killed and rescuers were searching for other victims after an Italian cruise ship carrying more than 4,000 people ran aground and keeled over in shallow waters. Reuters

The captain of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia that capsized, leaving 5 people dead, 42 others injured, and 17 still unaccounted for, has been accused of showing off when he maneuvered the ship dangerously close to the shore for the entertainment of the tourists on the island.

Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, has also been alleged to have abandoned ship and fled the scene before the passengers on board were evacuated to safety.

Preliminary indications are there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences, the boat's owners, Costa Cruises, said in a statement on Sunday.

The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain's judgment in handling the ­emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures, the statement said.

But why did the ship venture so close to the dangerous reefs and rocks of Isola del Giglio, the island off the coast of Tuscany?

Initial assessment points toward Captain Schettino suggesting that he deliberately maneuvered the ship too close to the island to provide a beautiful spectacle, for the tourists of Giglio.

Many ships pass by Giglio to salute the island's inhabitants with a whistle. It is a beautiful spectacle to watch the illuminated ship from land. This time things went badly, daily La Repubblica quoted Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli as saying.

According to an ANSA report, quoting Grosseto prosecutor Francesco Verusio, the ship was a mere 150 meters from the shore when it ran aground.

However, Schettino insisted that he was twice as far from the shore during the accident and that the rocks were not marked on his nautical charts.

He did admit that he tried to maneuver the ship close to the island as part of tourist navigation, suggesting that he deviated from the permitted navigation route to entertain the islanders.

We were navigating approximately 300 meters from the rocks, Schettino told Mediaset television. There shouldn't have been such a rock. On the nautical chart it indicated that there was water deep below, he said.

But the Prosecutor Francesco Verusio maintained that the ship hitting the rocks was inevitable in 150 meters distance, as ships of such sizes cannot sail so close to the coast.

The ship's black box has been recovered and is expected to shed more light on the circumstances leading to the wreck.