Thereafter, all radio calls to the stricken liner went unanswered. But at 00.32 the coastguard managed to contact Schettino by telephone. By then, the evacuation had been under way for only about 40 minutes. The captain was asked how many people were still aboard.
"Two, three hundred," he replied. Ten minutes later, the coastguard rang him again. By then, said Il Fatto quoting a local fire brigade commander, Schettino had left his ship and was on the rocks at Punta Gabbianara. He was again asked how many people were still aboard.
"I've called the ship owners, and they tell me that about 40 people are missing," he replied. "So few? How is that possible?" asked the coastguard, before adding: "But you're on board?" "No. I'm not on board because the bows of the ship are coming up. We've abandoned her." "What do you mean? You've abandoned ship?" "No. No way have I abandoned ship. I'm here."
The final, and most dramatic call, took place at 1.46am when, after confirming that he was speaking to the captain, a coastguard officer told him: "Right. You are now going back on board. You are going to go back up the rope ladder, return to the bridge and co-ordinate operations."
There followed a long silence, Il Fatto reported. "You must tell me how many people there are," the coastguard officer continued. "How many passengers, women and children – and co-ordinate the rescue." Schettino protested that he was on land. "Captain," said the coastguard officer, cutting across him. "This is an order. Now I am in command. You have declared the abandoning of a ship and are going to co-ordinate the rescue from the bridge. There are already dead bodies."
"How many?" asked Schettino. "You're the one who should be telling me that," came the reply. "What do you want to do? Go home? Now, go back up and tell me what can be done: how many people there are and what they need." "Alright," said Schettino. "I'm going." [He never did.]