According to witnesses and passengers of the Costa Concordia, crewmembers were bribed by rich passengers for priority boarding on lifeboats after the huge liner crashed into the rocks near Giglio Island off the coast of Tuscany. Italian prosecutors are reportedly investigating the claims.
One of the witnesses is Franca Anichini, 52, of Giglio Island. She told the German press that she watched as lifeboats arrived on the island after the disaster “I went to the boats as I saw them coming in expecting to see women, children and the injured,” she told the media, “but all I saw were healthy men and elegant women in evening gowns who were speaking Russian.”
Passengers of the doomed cruise ship reportedly substantiated the claim, saying that passengers wearing expensive clothing had shoved cash at crewmen aboard the liner in order to ensure that they were the first off, leaving parents with children, the elderly, and the disabled to fend for themselves. Costa, the company that owns the Concordia, declined to comment on the claims.
The captain of the felled ship, Francesco Schettino, just passed a drug test and is being charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship. Schettino’s criminal defense lawyer claims that his client is innocent.
Meanwhile, the first lawsuit scam involving the Concordia has emerged as a lawyer discovered that one of the women reported missing was actually alive. Peter Ronai of New York told reporters that he received an e-mail tip regarding some possible victims of the disaster. Ronai was already representing six survivors of the Concordia capsizing.
The tip was from a woman named Ilona, who said her daughter Eva was missing. Later, she added that her five-year-old granddaughter Roxana were missing. Ronai was suspicious and started investigating. He soon got a reply from a purported boyfriend, saying that the granddaughter was not missing and that he had misreported because he had been confused from doing too many drugs from the night before. Ronai wanted to meet with the 5-year-old and went to the man’s apartment. The little girl told him that her mother was also alive and well, and that she had seen her mother that morning at a park.
At this point, Eva appeared, saying she had been aboard the Costa Concordia and had injured her leg in the ensuing accident. When Ronai questioned Eva and her boyfriend further, they admitted that they had fabricated the whole thing. “[The boyfriend] wasn’t sorry or remorseful, just sorry they blew it. He felt if they hadn’t mentioned the 5-year-old granddaughter they would have got away with it,” said Ronai. “In New York we call them jumpers. For example, in New York City if there’s a bus accident [and] they don’t have a manifest of who was on the bus, people just claim they were on the bus and injured for money. The problem was these guys were stupid enough to do it on a case this big.”
Hungary does not have any insurance fraud laws. Officials have said that they are investigating the case. Ronai suggested on Hungarian television that they pass a fraud law making an attempted scam in a lawsuit a federal offense punishable by jail time.