Francesco Schettino said he brought the liner close to shore as a treat to passengers and as a favour to a crew member.
He denied taking the route near Giglio island to impress a Moldovan dancer he had brought to the bridge. The woman has testified the two were lovers.
Schettino said: “I wanted to kill three birds with one stone” — pay homage to the island and a retired commander living there, give passengers another experience and do a favour for the maitre d’, who was from Giglio.
Schettino sat hunched behind a table while prosecutors questioned him at a theatre, which has served as a courtroom.
He is being tried alone on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship after five other defendants reached plea bargains. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment.
Schettino was granted a request not to have his image, and only his voice, broadcast while he was giving evidence.
“I was trying to catch three pigeons with one bean,” Schettino, said, using an Italian expression that translates as “killing three birds with one stone”.
When he took control of the boat after a dinner break, he believed it to be on a safe route which would take it past Giglio on a line 0.5 miles offshore. “If the crew had any doubt about that, they should have told me.”
Prosecutors asked him why why he had asked the coastguard “is there water at 0.3 miles?” Schettino replied: “I was just making conversation.”
His lawyer, Donato Laino, described the defendant as “tense, concentrated”.
Schettino said he had previously navigated close to the island, and that it was not necessary to inform officials of ship owner Costa Crociere Spa on shore about the altered route since it was considered “an approach”, not a “touristic route”.
The ship hit rocks, creating a huge gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of 4,200 passengers as the ship listed.
Schettino’s defence says no one died in the collision itself, but the failure of a back-up generator and supposedly water-tight compartments that were flooded created problems during the evacuation.
He also denies abandoning ship, saying he was thrown into the water. Schettino denied being reckless in a bid to impress Moldovan blonde Domnica Cemortan, with whom he had just dined. Cemortan has already testified she was having an affair with the married captain.
The ship’s black box recordings were played in the courtroom and revealed Schettino, dubbed “Captain Coward” by Italian media, appeared not to realise how much danger the Costa Concordia was in.
Moments before the disaster he is heard ordering a turn to the right (towards the coastline) before joking in English: “Otherwise we go on the rocks.”
The recording also captured his words after disaster struck: “Madonna, what have I done?”
His appearance in court yesterday came a month after the body of the last missing victim of the disaster was recovered from the salvaged wreck of the cruise ship, which is now being dismantled for scrap in Genoa.
The victim, Indian waiter Russel Rebello, was one of 32 passengers and crew who died.
Only 29 minutes after he had given the order to passengers and crew to evacuate, and with lifeboats still dotting the surrounding waters, Schettino himself left the vessel with hundreds of those onboard still unaccounted for.
He later rebuffed a furious coastguard officer’s order that he return out of respect for both the law and centuries-old sailors’ code.
Speaking to CNN during a court break, Schettino said he was confident about his trial was progressing.
“It is exhausting, but I think it is going well,” Schettino said of the hearing. “It is important because this is the only chance I have to tell my version of events.”