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Costa Concordia Capt. Schettino distracted, first officer says

GROSSETO, Italy, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The first officer aboard the cruise ship Costa Concordia said the captain was "distracted" in the moments leading up to the ship's crash near Tuscany.

First Officer Ciro Ambrosio testified Tuesday that Capt. Francesco Schettino was preoccupied with a phone call and by a woman he was having an affair with just prior to the crash of the ship, which killed 32 people, the news agency ANSA reported.

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Schettino is on trial for multiple counts of manslaughter in the January 2012 shipwreck of the 951-foot, $618 million cruise ship. Ambrosio took a plea deal in which he was sentenced to one year, 11 months in prison for multiple manslaughter.

"The captain was distracted. He was on the telephone with [retired Costa Capt. Mario] Palombo," Ambrosio said. "Even though I had finished my shift, I felt I had to retake command in order to give orders to the helmsman to start our approach to Giglio Island, which was getting closer."

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Schettino then "arrived in the command center accompanied by a woman, then gave an order to switch to manual control of the helm."

The woman was identified as Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan, who said she was having an affair with Schettino.

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"But he did not immediately speak the phrase 'I'm taking control,' which signals a change in command," Ambrosio added. "However, given the way he positioned himself, I assumed he had taken command and I thought I was no longer in charge. Then, since the captain was distracted, and we were getting closer to Giglio, I gave orders to the helmsman."

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