A Moldovan woman named as a key witness over the role of the captain of the doomed Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia on Thursday strongly defended his actions and said he saved thousands of lives.
Domnica Cemortan -- a blonde 25-year-old ballerina with dual Moldovan and Romanian citizenship -- said she was dining with friends at the time of the disaster and denied captain Francesco Schettino was also having drinks on deck.
"The charges you hear about the captain today are absurd," Cemortan told AFP in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.
"The Costa Concordia captain is the best one in the company. He did everything right and saved people's lives. He is a hero. All the crew members worked in a professional manner and saved lives."
Italian media on Thursday reported that investigators wanted to interview Cemortan because she had said she was with Schettino when the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Tuscan coast on Friday, had also gone upstairs to the captain's deck.
She was not listed as one of the passengers or crew members on board the ship and the Italian media speculated that she may have been a special guest of the captain.
Cemortan said she worked for the company Costa Cruises on other ships and had boarded the Costa Concordia to celebrate her 25th birthday with friends.
"I jumped off the boat at 11:50 pm," she said. "The captain was still working on deck."
Cemortan said she was asked by the crew to help with the rescue operation because she could translate instructions to Russian speakers on board.