Italian police taped calls made by Francesco Schettino after his ship ran aground off the Tuscan Coast on January 14.

Despite saying he slipped onto a lifeboat, the skipper told a friend in the phonecall: “When I realised that the ship was listing, I left and got off it.”

He added that he went back for his radio and checked that the ship was settling in between rocks.

The recordings also reveal that Schettino claims that Costa Cruises encouraged him to sail close to Giglio and that he had remained professional throughout the disaster.

He said: “Management was always saying ‘pass by there, pass by there’. Someone else in my position might not have been so amenable to pass so close but they busted my balls, pass by there, pass by there, and now I’m paying for it.”

Costa Cruises denied that Schettino was authorized to go so close to the island.

A previous colleague, Mario Palombo, has said Schettino was a “show off” who drove the ship like “a Ferrari”.

Schettino tells his friend that he feels he fulfilled his duty on the stricken ship: “I went to save people from the sea and I feel very calm about that.”

The cruise captain caused outrage among mariners, who say seafaring tradition states that the captain should be the last to leave a sinking ship.

The death toll following the January 13 shipwreck has reached 16, and divers are continuing the search for at least 24 people who are still missing.

Schettino has been under house arrest since January 17.