The owners of the Costa Concordia have come under fire for offering survivors of the disaster a 30 per cent discount off future cruises as they battle to stave off law suits expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
One British survivor of the disaster, which claimed 12 lives with 20 people still missing, branded the offer as "insulting" yesterday.
It was also disclosed that in an attempt to help survivors, the ship's parent company, Carnival, has been telephoning passengers daily asking if they are suffering nightmares or sleepless nights. But that move also appeared to backfire when a psychologist said such questioning could trigger post traumatic stress rather than relieve it.
A little over a week after the ship capsized off the coast of Tuscany, it also emerged that:
- An emergency services log showed that the Concordia's captain, Francisco Schettino, abandoned ship more than four hours before the last passenger.
- A separate voice recording showed Captain Schettino pledging to be the last man on the ship, suggesting erratic behaviour and that he lied to the authorities.
- Divers recovered the ship's safe from the captain's cabin along with the body of a woman they found in a submerged corridor.
The offer for future discounts is being made by Costa Cruises, which operated the Concordia and whose parent company is Carnival, the world's largest cruise operator.
This weekend, passengers were also being sent letters by Costa detailing how to claim for lost valuables and offering a full refund on the voyage.
Lawyers plan to sue both in the US and in Italy, with more than 100 passengers already reported to have joined a class action that is to be lodged in Miami this week. Each is reported to be demanding between £100,000 ($148,500) and £1 million in compensation.
A spokesman for Costa Cruises said yesterday: "The company is trying to do everything they can for those passengers directly affected.
"The company is not only going to refund everybody but they will offer a 30 per cent discount on future cruises if they want to stay loyal to the company."
Costa's chief executive, Pier Luigi Foschi, who estimated that the impact of the disaster on his firm was £60 million, had expressed confidence that the group would be able to "find a solution that, in the material sense, would satisfy" the passengers.
However, Brian Page, 63, a retired accountant from Southampton, who survived by sliding from one side of the deck to another to find a lifeboat, said: "It is a ridiculous and insulting offer. I'm very disappointed in them. They are not accepting their responsibilities at all. Our only back-up is separate legal action."
Costa Cruises has laid the blame on Captain Schettino, who steered the liner on to rocks and then abandoned ship before all the passengers got off. But lawyers for the passengers will claim that Costa Cruise ships had "regularly" deviated from the correct route.
The ongoing civil legal battle is complicated by the criminal case against Captain Schettino and the specific contracts signed by passengers.
Last week, Carnival began phoning British passengers asking if they were suffering nightmares, sleepless nights and needed counselling. Mr Page and other passengers, including Janice and Ian Donoff, from north London, and Edwin and Liz Gurd, from Hampshire, received calls.
Lawyers, however, have questioned the company's motives. Clive Garner, head of the travel law team at Irwin Mitchell, who represents at least one British passenger, said: "I would advise Carnival to desist from doing this. In other large-scale incidents, defendants have been very keen to liaise with victims early on with a view to making low offers of settlement."
Jill Greenfield, a personal injury partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse who has successfully sued Carnival in the past, said: "The poor people on this ship will still be in shock and not yet realise what they have been through. It may be that Carnival are genuinely trying to help but what they should be doing is telling these people to get some legal advice."
Jennifer Wild, a consultant clinical psychologist at Oxford University and King's College London, said repeatedly asking victims if they were having nightmares breached guidelines on treating people after disasters. The questions are likely to feed anxiety and possibly even lead to post-traumatic stress, she said.
"They may be doing it because they just want to monitor people but this is not helpful," she said.
Further details of Captain Schettino's erratic behaviour were disclosed with the publication of the official log kept by the harbour master's office, which coordinated the rescue. The log shows how the captain, who is under house arrest, first played down the crisis and then abandoned ship more than four hours before the last passenger.
Further voice recordings add to the confusion, with Captain Schettino claiming to coastguards that he will remain on ship as the last man. "I'm the only one who will stay here," he told the coastguards in a tape that will be used by prosecutors to support their contention that he lied to port authorities on the night of the disaster and that he abandoned his post in contravention of the naval code.
Divers exploring the cruise ship recovered a safe from the captain's cabin on the instructions of the prosecutors. They believe it may contain documents or other evidence that could help their investigation.
The body of a 12th victim was found inside the hull of the £370 million, 300-metre vessel. The victim, a woman, was found wearing a life jacket on the fourth deck, close to a muster station.
The Sunday Telegraph, London