The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship "cried like a baby" as he hugged its chaplain hours after the luxury liner crashed into the island of Giglio, the priest said in an interview Friday.
Interviewed by French magazine Famille Chretienne, Father Raffaele Malena said he was among the last to leave the ship at around 1:30 am (0030 GMT) on Saturday and then stayed "close to the injured" in the tiny harbour of Giglio.
"I descended on the rope ladder. I was picked up by a little lifeboat," said Malena, who has returned to his village of Ciro Marina in Calabria.
"At around 2:30 am I spoke to the captain (Francesco Schettino). He embraced me and cried like a baby for about a quarter of an hour," Malena said.
Schettino is accused of multiple manslaughter, abandoning a ship and causing a shipwreck and faces several years in prison if he is found guilty.
Many witnesses have said that he was sailing far too close to Giglio in a show-off manoeuvre and struck submerged rocks close to the Tuscan island.
He has admitted to making a mistake but said that following the impact he steered the vessel to save as many people as possible, according to a leaked transcript of his interrogation by prosecutors on Tuesday.
The 73-year-old chaplain, who has worked for Costa for around 20 years, praised the bravery of crew members amid panic during the evacuation.
"There were heroes of all nationalities... They were shaking with fear. They were threatened. They were telling people to stop boarding lifeboats which were full but people were getting in anyway," he said.
The Catholic priest said he was also angry at some of the passengers, "who are going to sue because they have lost 30, 40 or 50,000 euros in jewels."
"Me, I defend the weak. Not the rich and the billionaires," he added.
The priest said he went to pray for a few moments in the ship's chapel before leaving the ship.
"Baby Jesus was still in his manger. I told him, crying like a child: 'We are all about to die. I'm asking you for nothing short of a miracle. Please let as few people die as possible!'"
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