As rescuers continue to search for survivors on the Costa Concordia cruise ship five days after it slammed into rocks off Italy’s Tuscan coast, new audio between the ship’s captain and a member of the Italian Coast Guard has surfaced, giving the European country its newest — and most unintentional — celebrity.

In the heated four-minute exchange, coast guard captain Gregorio De Falco repeatedly commands Francesco Schettino, who helmed the cruise ship and escaped after it began to sink, to return to the vessel and help coordinate the evacuation of the many remaining passengers.

“You’ve abandoned ship! I’m in charge now,” De Falco rages at Schettino, who was apparently in a rowboat when the audio was recorded hours after the initial disaster. “Go back and report to me how many passengers [are still onboard] and what they need. … Perhaps you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for this, dammit!”

When Schettino demurs, saying, “You don’t understand, it’s dark here. Can’t see anything,” De Falco sarcastically spits back, “What is it, you want to go home Schettino? It’s dark and you want to go home? … Go back onboard, dammit!”

Italians say De Falco’s expletive is actually much harsher than “dammit” — but the line has become a national catchphrase and is currently among Italy’s top trending hashtags on Twitter.

When audio of the contentious exchange went viral on Tuesday, it made a star of Capt. De Falco. Within hours, a Facebook page created in his name had thousands of fans, and by the next morning, t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Go back onboard, dammit!” were already being sold online.

Rescue operations on board the Costa Concordia were suspended Wednesday because of the ship’s movements. So far, 11 people are confirmed dead, and more than 20 are still missing. Schettino, meanwhile, is under house-arrest on charges that include manslaughter.

The exchange between De Falco and Schettino is below:


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