Wife of Italian Cruise Captain Calls Treatment of Husband 'Shameful'

PHOTO: Francesco Schettino the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italys Tuscan coast, is seen in this undated file photo.
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The wife of the captain accused of abandoning the capsized Costa Concordia cruise liner off the Tuscan island of Giglio says that her husband is not the "monster" that has been portrayed in the media and that he is being made a scapegoat.

Fabiola Russo, the wife of Captain Francesco Schettino, spoke out in a cover story in Oggi, an Italian weekly magazine, which hit newsstands today. In the interview Russo says that her husband is a "maestro," and that there was a reason he was entrusted with the helm of the Concordia.

"My husband is at the center of an unprecedented global media storm," Russo said in the interview. "I cannot think of any other naval or air tragedy in which the responsible party was treated with such violence. This is a man hunt, people are looking for a scapegoat, a monster. It's shameful.

In the interview Russo, 48, also addresses claims that 52-year-old Schettino, whom the Italian press has dubbed "Captain Coward," recklessly steered the Concordia to disaster.

"He knows how to do his job, but sometimes even those who know how to do their job can make mistakes -- if he did make a mistake," she said. "He is decisive, stable and lucid. He analyzes situations, understands them and knows how to manage them."

Russo did however admit in the interview that at one point Schettino was fined for steering a boat too close to the shore.

"Our shared passion is canoeing -- to paddle together you have to be in symphony, which is what Francesco and I are," she said. "But we got fined once, because we took a little motorboat too close to the coast."

The Costa Concordia capsized on January 13 when it hit rocks near Italy's Tuscan coast. The cruise liner had 4,200 passengers onboard.

Officials said Tuesday that another body was found in the ship's wreckage, which brings the total death toll from the Costa Concordia tragedy to 16, leaving 17 victims still missing, including a Minnesota couple.

Salvage operators are now getting in position to pump fuel off of the stricken ship, bringing a crane and other equipment to the scene.

PHOTOS: Inside the Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Tragedy

Schettino, who claimed he tripped into the lifeboat and never meant to abandon the sinking ship, could face criminal charges, including manslaughter and abandoning ship. He told investigators earlier that his actions after the crash were competent and saved lives.

The CEO of the cruise line said that because Schettino did not tell them exactly what was going on in those fateful minutes after the crash, they did not send the proper response.

New transcripts leaked in the Italian press reveal a secretly recorded phone call that Schettino made from an investigators' office after his arrest. On the call, the embattled captain says that while his skill helped prevent an even worse tragedy, he feels that he is being scapegoated.

"I tried to avoid larger consequences ... but in the end I didn't manage to do it. I don't want to ever go back on a ship... I want to change my life because I don't see it ending very well," Schettino says.

The ship's chaplain said Schettino cried in his arms for 15 minutes after reaching the safety of shore.

"At around 2:30 a.m. I spoke to the captain," chaplain Raffaele Malena told the French magazine Famille Chretienne. He embraced me and cried like a child for about a quarter of an hour."

Russo told Oggi magazine that she and her husband pray for all of the victims and those still missing from the ship, and added that the ordeal has been difficult for the couple's 17-year-old daughter, who has seen the firestorm of negative press about her father.

In the interview Russo doesn't mention the mystery Moldovan woman her husband was reportedly dining with that night. That woman, who is still unnamed, claimed the captain was entertaining her at the time of the accident, and showing her photos of his daughter.

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