Domnica Cemortan of Moldova smiles during the Costa Concordia trial against Francesco Schettino in Grosseto (Reuters)
A young Moldovan woman who was on the bridge of the Costa Concordia when it crashed off the Italian coast has admitted for the first time that she had a love affair with Captain Francesco Schettino.
Domnica Cemortan, 26, told an Italian court she was dining with Schettino just minutes before the cruise ship crashed on to rocks off the Island of Giglio.
"We had a love affair," she told judges in Grosseto, Tuscany, in a fresh account of the incident that killed 32 people in January 2012.
Cemortan had previously denied any sentimental relationship with Schettino, even though her luggage was found in his cabin.
In court, she initially refused to answer questions about the affair but finally gave up after the judge told her she was to face criminal charges if she persisted being reticent.
She said the relationship ended after the shipwreck.
Prosecutors allege that Schettino, pilloried as "Captain Coward" in the Italian media, steered the liner too close to the island because he wanted to perform a sail-past salute. Cemortan said she was sitting at a table of the ship's Milano restaurant with the captain and cruise maître d' Ciro Onorato as the Concordia approached the Tuscan islet.
Schettino joked he was going to slow down the liner just so Cemortan could enjoy her dinner in peace before moving up to the bridge and watch the show, she said.
"He quipped that he was to order ship officials to slow down so that I could finish the dessert," Cemortan told the court, aided by an interpreter.
After the meal, which allegedly featured wine, she eventually moved to the bridge but the situation soon turned chaotic.
"I heard the captain growling at an official who hadn't followed his orders," Cemortan said. "After a few moments lights started flashing and later the alarm went off."
Cemortan said she rushed to Schettino's cabin, where he had placed her luggage, to change into something warmer.
She also fetched a blue jacket for Schettino who took off his captain's jacket and put that one on instead. "He asked me to bring it [the uniform] back to the cabin," Cemortan said.
Not wearing his ranks, Schettino wasn't clearly recognisable as the captain as the tragedy unfolded. Prosecutors allege he abandoned the ship with hundreds of passengers still on board.
As the situation worsened, Schettino told Cemortan to move to another area of the ship, from where she was later evacuated aboard a lifeboat.
"Go, you've got to save yourself," Schettino said, according to Cemortan.
Cemortan also worked for Costa Corciere but was on the Concordia on vacation, after completing a tour as an on-board hostess.
However she had no ticket. She told the court that she passed security checks thanks to Schettino's intervention.
"I called him and he came down to help me," Cemortan said. "Everything is easier when you're someone's lover," she added in a resentful tone.
Cemortan has filed a complaint as a civil party at the trial, which could entitle her to compensation if he is found guilty for the shipwreck.
She claimes the incident and the subsequent media attention caused her psychological troubles and she had to take medication.
Schettino faces up to 20 years in jail and denies the charges. He calls himself an innocent scapegoat and claims he actually saved lives by manoeuvring the ship closer to the island's shores.
Domnica Cemortan, 26, gives evidence in court in Grosseto
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