Costa Concordia: Captain says 'divine hand' guided him

File image of Francesco Schettino Mr Schettino denies the charges against him

The captain of the Costa Concordia ship which ran aground killing more than 30 people has said a "divine hand" guided him, preventing greater tragedy.

Francesco Schettino has released a letter, published in Italy's La Corriere della Sera newspaper, explaining his version of events.

The ship struck rocks and capsized near the island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, in January.

The letter comes as an Italian judge lifted Mr Schettino's house arrest.

The judge said that Mr Schettino must not leave his hometown, near Naples, while the investigation continues.

The cruise firm contends that Mr Schettino steered the vessel too close to shore.

But, in his letter, Mr Schettino argues that he avoided sailing head-on into the rocks, and saved many lives by steering the stricken vessel into shallow water.

'Best possible circumstances'

Mr Schettino denies the charges against him which include manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

"I created the best possible circumstances to save everyone, regardless of how events subsequently unfolded," he wrote.

He also defended the speed of his decision-making on the night of the crash.

"A captain," he wrote, "can take the time required to evaluate the emergency without creating panic. Only he is responsible, first before God, and then before men."

He said that no-one advised him that they were off the ship's predetermined route and it was only when he saw "white foam" that he realised how close to the rocks they were sailing.

"That was the sign that led me to give the order to steer starboard, by pure instinct. In that moment a divine hand no doubt rested upon my head. If I had continued on that path we would have hit the rocks with the bow. It would have been a catastrophe."

Italian investigators are holding an inquiry into the cause of the Costa Concordia disaster and a court hearing is due on 21 July at which the full results of technical analysis will be heard.

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