The captain who ran his cruise ship onto rocks off the Italian coast has reportedly told investigators he "tripped and fell into a lifeboat" as the stricken ship began to take on water.
The search for 23 people still missing after the wreck of the Costa Concordia was suspended overnight because of bad weather.
While maritime authorities begin their investigation into what went wrong, the ship's owner keeps pointing the finger of blame at captain Francesco Schettino.
Now Italian press reports say Schettino has told investigators he was not on board to direct the evacuation of hundreds of crew and passengers because he accidentally fell into a life raft.
The claim has sparked widespread anger in Italy.
Commander Cosimo Nicastro, from the Italian coast guard, says Schettino broke the golden rule.
"The captain has to be the last one to leave the ship," he said.
"This is international law, it is Italian law. When he left, there was still hundreds of people on board waiting."
Overnight an Italian judge said other crew members stayed on board for the evacuation, apparently refuting the captain's claim he had to oversee the operation from the shore.
And a shipping journal has revealed five months ago the ship passed very close to the island of Giglio on much the same track that it took last week.
The head of Costa Cruises, which owns the Costa Concordia, says the same ship did a similar stunt last August, sailing close to Giglio as the island celebrated its festival of the shooting stars.
But Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said the ship had never been closer than 500 metres to the island.
However, the Lloyd's List shipping journal says its satellite tracking information puts the ship within 230 metres of the island in August - even closer than the accident site.
"I think what we've discovered with this data is that the company's account of what happened, of the rogue master taking a bad decision, isn't quite as black and white as they presented originally," editor Richard Meade said.
"This ship took a very similar route only a few months previously and the master would have known that.
"Now the master's account of the thing is that there were no rocks in his way, this was a perfectly safe route, the ship had done this before, and this evidence really does stack that up."
Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, says the captain is devastated by the incident, in which 11 people have been confirmed dead so far.
"The captain is disturbed and indeed heartbroken by what happened, so let's move away from the negative profile that's been portrayed," he said.
"He's not only shaken for the loss of his ship, which for a marine captain is a serious thing, but above all for what happened and the loss of human life.
Rough seas halted the rescue operation overnight and Commander Nicastro says the ship slipped from the shelf it has been resting on.
"We're using technological instruments to be sure that the ship don't move too much, to let scuba divers and other rescue teams on board," he said.
For the families of the missing, the wait for news is heartbreaking.
No survivors have been rescued since Sunday but search teams are expected to re-enter the wreck to resume the search on Thursday.
Relatives of some of the missing have arrived at the scene, desperate for news of their loved ones.
"We are asking that in this moment all the rescue team units and authorities don't lose any time and do everything they can to recover or find, dead or alive, my daughter," said Sartonino Soria, who had come from Peru after learning his daughter Erika, a member of the crew, was missing.
"This is the reason why we are here and we will not leave until we have found Erika," he said.
The list of those still unaccounted for includes 13 Germans, four French, five Italians and two American passengers, together with four crew members from Italy, India and Peru. Some of those missing are believed to be included among dead that have been found but not yet identified.
Topics: maritime, disasters-and-accidents, accidents, italy
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