Noose tightens on 'Enrica Lexie' captain Umberto Vitelli

From intentional destruction of the crucial evidence on the Italian vessel Enrica Lexie to emails sent out from the ship immediately after it was cornered by the Navy and the Coast Guard, the law is catching up with the captain Umberto Vitelli.

Top police officials said that not only the failure to switch on the voice data recorder, as reported in these columns on February 20, which could be seen as an intentional destruction of evidence, the emails sent by him to the company immediately after the vessel was cornered by the naval authorities was now under scrutiny.

“Our priority is to trace the location of the ship at the time of the firing. The VDR and other data are being analysed. However, we are also looking at the emails sent out by the captain after the incident and also the ones he sent just before the ship was cornered by our people,” said a top police official connected with the probe.

He added that around the time of the shooting and immediately after that, the captain was in front of the computer and is believed to be involved in navigation and also sending out emails to the company.

The data of the VDR, similar to an aircraft’s black box, is crucial for investigation. Immediately after the firing, the crew was to switch on the VDR.

However, failure to do so will mean that the data gets erased after 12 hours. Since the captain is responsible for all activities on board the vessel, failure to switch on the VDR should be construed as dereliction of duty and flouting of international maritime rules. The police should initiate action against him, shipping sources said.

“If the ship crew had nothing to hide, they could have switched on the equipment. But that they failed to do so points to an intentional attempt to destroy crucial evidence and the captain should be ,” a senior shipping official said.

The directorate of shipping has through the marine mercantile department got access to the VDR, log book, GPS and other data of the ship. The data was being examined and analysed. A final report could be submitted latest by the end of next week, said a top official of the department. Initial scrutiny of the documents pointed to the ship failing to adhere to international law, he added.

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