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Captain Francesco Schettino “had been drinking with a beautiful woman at the ship’s bar before the disaster”

Francesco Schettino, the captain of the doomed Costa Concordia cruise ship is quickly becoming Italy’s “most hated man”, with hundreds turning to Facebook to vent their anger against him.

Now, almost 1,000 people have “liked” the Facebook group “Francesco Schettino”comandante” Costa Crociere” to berate him – with many saying he “played with people’s lives”.

Also on Facebook, it emerged that the head of the ship’s restaurant’s sister had posted a comment, before the disaster, saying: “In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. A big greeting to my brother who finally get to have a holiday on landing in Savona.”

Patrizia Tivoli, sister of restaurant boss Antonello, posted the message at 9:08 p.m. on Friday. A few minutes later, the boat ran aground.

The revelations follow claims that Francesco Schettino had been drinking “with a beautiful woman” at the ship’s bar before he sailed into disaster.

Francesco Schettino, 52, was arrested on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship when the cruise liner ran aground after sustaining a 160 ft gash in the port-side hull.

Six people are now confirmed dead and 16 are still missing. The sixth person – a male passenger – was found dead wearing a life vest on the second deck of the ship. That area of the boat was not submerged.

One passenger has accused Captain Francesco Schettino of drinking in one of the ship’s bars on the night the vessel ran aground, before taking control after the crash.

Monique Maurek, 41, from the Netherlands, said: “What scandalized me most was when I saw the captain spending much of the evening before we hit the rocks drinking in the bar with a beautiful woman on his arm.

“Most people didn’t even have any idea of what the evacuation warning sound would be. It was only because some of us had already been on a cruise that we recognized that seven blasts of the horn was a signal to abandon ship.”

Francesco Schettino had been drinking “with a beautiful woman” at the ship's bar before he sailed into disaster

Francesco Schettino had been drinking “with a beautiful woman” at the ship's bar before he sailed into disaster

Phil Metcalf, whose daughter Rose was one of the last people off the ship, said she had revealed the captain allegedly abandoned ship in the early stages of the evacuation, leaving his staff onboard.

He said: “Since the captain had left there was nobody, so everybody was left to their own devices hence some of the chaos, so obviously the crew took it upon themselves and decided in the absence of the captain to organize and try and help people.”

Italian investigators are working on the theory that the $600 million vessel sailed close to the island of Giglio to greet an officer from the Italian merchant navy who was friendly with those on the Concordia.

Reports in Italy said that investigators had identified the man on shore and he would be questioned as part of the inquiry into the incident.

Last August Costa Concordia passed close to the island sounding its whistle – prompting the mayor to send a congratulatory email to the captain for providing such a “spectacle to tourists” and “fantastic entertainment”.

Prosecutors described Francesco Schettino’s handling of the giant craft as “inept” and he was forced to deny additional damaging claims that he left the ship to save himself, had been spotted in the bar and even raided the safe before leaving.

Francesco Schettino told maritime investigators that charts showed he was in water deep enough to navigate and that he had struck an unidentified rocky outcrop of the island.

Once the captain realized the extent of the damage he immediately tried to change route and head for the safety of Giglio harbour.

Yesterday, the chief executive of Italian owner blamed “human error” on the part of Captain Francesco Schettino for the grounding of the vessel.

Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi told reporters the liner had passed all safety and technical tests in its 2011 evaluation.

Asked about the suggestion that the captain had abandoned ship, senior prosecutor Francesco Verusio said: “Unfortunately, I must confirm that circumstance.”

As an injured crewman and a Korean honeymoon couple were rescued yesterday, 48 hours after the vessel came to grief, it also emerged that:

Survivors were left to swim for their lives and shin down rope ladders during a terrifying “Titanic-like” escape. They told how women and children were barged out of the way by crewmen heading for the lifeboats.

■ Fears grew of an environmental disaster amid claims from the scene that fuel has started leaking from the liner.

■ Rescue divers continue to search submerged parts of the ship before bad weather sinks it fully. The death toll rose to six when a man wearing a life vest was found on the ship’s second deck

The crash has shocked all those who enjoy the multi-billion-pound cruise industry and believe they are holidaying in absolute safety.

Costa Concordia cruise ship was sailing little more than 300 yards from the rocky coast of Giglio when it should have been at least ten times that distance.

Captain Francesco Schettino insisted his charts and navigation system show he was in “safe water” and that the rocks he had hit were unmarked – a claim which amazed locals on Giglio who say the dangers were well known.

First Officer Ciro Ambrosio was also arrested and detained with Francesco Schettino at Porto Santo Stefano on the Italian mainland before being transferred to prison.

The Tuscan prosecutor said the ship had struck a reef on its port side causing it to take in an “enormous amount of water in a matter of minutes”. A huge piece of rock remained embedded in the hull.

Italian police are conducting two investigations – one into the route the captain took and one into the evacuation of the ship. The 117,000-ton Costa Concordia smashed into rocks two hours into a seven-day Mediterranean cruise as passengers were enjoying dinner at 9:30 p.m. on Friday.

francesco Schettino, who has worked with Costa Concordia for 11 years, called his mother Rosa in Naples at 5:00 a.m. and said: “There has been a tragedy but keep calm. I tried to save the passengers. I won’t be able to call you for a while but don’t worry.”

Francesco Schettino’ sister Giulia said: “We are keeping calm. Franco is a good captain and he has told the truth.”

There were also reports that Francesco Schettino had been dining with passengers when the accident happened – but the ship’s operating company, Costa Crociere, said he was on the bridge. Last night it was still unclear as to what had caused the stricken ship to capsize. It hit a rocky outlet known as Le Scole, which opened up the port-side hull.

Fifteen minutes after impact, Francesco Schettino gave the order to drop anchor in an attempt to turn the ship around and return as close as possible to Giglio harbour which by now Costa Concordia had passed.

As it carried out the emergency manoeuvre, it sped up the intake of water and led to the ship turning on to its side, finally coming to rest on a rocky shelf. There is also a theory that an electrical fault wiped out the ship’s navigational power and steering control.

Survivors vented their anger at the captain yesterday on a message board at their Rome hotel. It had been set up for therapeutic reasons to allow them to display their feelings and give thanks for their rescue.

Francesco Schettino will be held until next week when a judge will decide whether he should be released or formally arrested. If convicted, he faces a maximum 12 years in jail.