The mysterious Moldovan dancer who has emerged as a key witness in the Italian cruise ship disaster said Friday she was ready to talk to investigators in defence of the embattled captain.
"I am ready to give testimony to make the investigation objective," Domnica Cemortan told AFP when asked about reports that she was being sought for questioning by the Italian investigative team.
"I live at my mother's and am not hiding because there is no reason to. Neither the prosecutors nor the Italian police have been looking for me."
The Moldovan interior ministry told AFP it had never received a request from Italian officials to help track down Cemortan or detain her for questioning.
The 25-year old ballerina said she was on the ship as a passenger but helped with the rescue operation due to her experience of working on cruise ships and knowledge of Russian.
She has denied reports of a romantic involvement with captain Francesco Schettino or that she dined with him after the massive cruise ship struck rocks off Giglio Island, setting off a first panic among passengers.
"At 21:30 there was a coded alarm which is known by the crew. This is done to begin evacuation without panicking the passengers," said Cemortan, who also said she has worked for five years in Italy, including for ship owner Costa.
"I went out to the deck and then up to the bridge with other crew members. The captain, along with about 20 officers and the cruise director, was there," she said, calling Schettino a "hero" who should be thanked for saving lives.
Captain Schettino has been accused of multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck. He is currently under house arrest and faces several years in prison if found guilty.
Cermotan said her cruise was purchased by her friends as a gift for her birthday. Media reports suggested she was there as a special guest and was with the captain at the time of the disaster.