The cruise liner captain accused of abandoning ship after he grounded it off the coast of Italy Friday now says he only left because he slipped and tripped into a lifeboat while helping passengers evacuate the ship.

Francesco Schettino. (Reuters)

“I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60-70° angle, I tripped, and I ended up in one of the boats. That’s how I found myself in the lifeboat,” Schettino told the judge, according to Italian news site La Repubblica.

Schettino admitted, however, that he was responsible for crashing the ship carrying more than 4,200 passengers into rocks and forcing it aground. He is believed to have taken the cruise liner off-course to wave to a former colleague, in what many are now calling a reckless show of bravado.

Schettino has left jail but is under house arrest.

On Tuesday, transcripts of calls between Schettino and the coast guard showed the captain refusing to reboard the ship, despite the orders of the guard. The captain also told the coast guard he was on deck despite having reportedly already escaped over the rocks where the liner had crashed and caught a taxi to take him away from the scene. At several points during the call, Schettino seemed near tears.

Italians are showing little sympathy for the captain’s mistake, which has cost the lives of at least 11 people, with 28 people still missing. T-shirts are now being sold with the caption “Get back on board, for [expletive] sake!” and “Keep calm and get back on board, for [expletive] sake!” the Telegraph reports.

“It’s dark and the water is cold, and I realize it’s been three hours since I ate,” Italian TV personality Alessandro Catellan wrote on Twitter mocking the captain’s abandonment of the ship.

The Italian phrase for “get back on board, for [expletive] sake!” also became a top trend on Italian Twitter, and proliferated on Facebook pages Wednesday.

“We’ve had two months to regain our honor in the eyes of the world,” an editorial in La Stampa read, referencing the resignation of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in November.

“Two months to forget the worst of ourselves: the superficiality, the carelessness, the pomposity, the abdication of responsibility. And then, with a single nudge of the rudder, Captain Schettino has sunk our international reputation, along with his ship.”

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