Costa Concordia Owners Unaware Of Dangerous 'Ships Saluting' Practice, CEO Says

ROME, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The owners of the doomed Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia were not aware of unsafe practices involving ships coming close to shore to give tourists a better view, Costa Cruises chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi told a newspaper on Friday.

Investigators say the captain of the Costa Concordia steered the ship too close to the Tuscan island of Giglio, where the 114,500 tonne vessel ran aground and capsized last week, apparently while performing a manoeuvre known as a "salute" which took it within 150 metres of the shore.

Foschi told the Corriere della Sera that ships sometimes passed near to shore during what he termed "tourist navigation" but he said this was always performed safely and he denied that the company knew the Concordia would be going so close.

He said the Concordia's onboard newspaper had announced that the ship would pass five miles from Giglio.

"I can't rule out that individual captains, without informing us, may have set a course closer to land. However I can rule out ever having known that they may have done it unsafely," he said.

Doubts have already been expressed about whether Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise operator, can have been unaware of the practice of ships "saluting".

Enrico Scerni, former president of the ship classification organisation RINA, suggested in a newspaper interview that it was difficult to believe that Costa was unaware that captains often went close to Giglio to "salute" the island and give passengers a closer view.

Scerni resigned from his position soon afterwards and RINA issued a statement saying that the routes specified by Costa "conformed with all criteria of good navigation".

Costa Cruises has suspended Francesco Schettino, the Concordia's captain and declared itself an injured party in the case, in which Schettino is accused by prosecutors of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all the passengers were evacuated.

Foschi criticised delays in evacuating the ship after it struck a rock which gashed its hull and denied that any pressure had been exerted on Schettino to wait before deciding to abandon ship because of cost considerations.

"I assure you absolutely that no one thought in financial terms. That would be a choice that would violate our ethics," he told the newspaper.

Costa Concordia 1/19/2012