A Moldovan dancer who admitted she was with Costa Concordia's Captain Francesco Schettino at the moment the cruise hit rocks off the Italian coast said she was in love with him.
Domnica Cemortan was interviewed for nearly six hours by prosecutors in Tuscany. According to some reports, divers had found some of her belongings in the captain's cabin.
The 25-year-old woman, who works for the Costa Concordia's owners but was on holiday on its doomed final voyage, told prosecutors she had fallen in love for Schettino, Italian press has reported.
"I love him, and it's not right to destroy his reputation," Cemortan told investigators, according to the Daily Telegraph. "Everyone is hammering him."
She confirmed that the captain had invited her on to the bridge at the time of impact.
Cemortan is believed to have worked as a dancer on another cruise ship in 2007. Witnesses claimed to have spotted 52-year-old Schettino, who is married and has a child, accompanied by a blonde girl in the luxury restaurant on the top deck of the liner at the time of impact.
"The captain was accompanied by two women, a blonde and a dark-haired one," said Marco Monda, a passenger. "He was showing off Giglio island. He was with us at the time of the accident. Then he ran away, as everyone else. It was awful, there was nobody from the crew to help us evacuate."
The same witness took a picture of a young blonde woman resembling Cemortan eating dinner and sharing a decanter of red wine with him less than 30 minutes before the collision.
According to prosecutors, the woman could have "distracted" Schettino, causing a delay to the emergency procedures.
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio said Cemortan could be a key figure in proceedings against Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before everyone was saved.