Passengers who were aboard the Costa Concordia shared tales of their trauma yesterday at a preliminary hearing into the causes of the cruise ship disaster as damning new details about its captain emerged.

Francesco Schettino, who is under house arrest after steering the ship into rocks on the island of Giglio in January, was not wearing his glasses that night, the ship's first officer has told investigators.

"He had forgotten them in his cabin," said Ciro Ambrosio. "He asked me a number of times to adjust the scale of the radar because he couldn't see it well."

As Schettino grounded the listing ship in shallow water and it took on water, he told officers to lie to coastguards. "He ordered us to say everything was under control," said Ambrosio.

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Investigators have also learned that Mario Palombo, a former officer at cruise ship operator Costa Cruises, who mentored Schettino, warned in 2003 that Schettino's pride drove him to lie. "In many cases he preferred to lie to me rather than admit mistakes," Palombo wrote at the time.

Twenty-five passengers who have registered with the court as injured parties joined over 100 lawyers and forensic experts in a theatre in the Tuscan town of Grosseto, booked to handle the crowd at the pre-trial hearing.

"I just had to be here, I have to know how it happened," said Patrizia Perilli, who has been seeing a therapist since she fled the ship with 200 passengers in a lifeboat.

Other passengers told similar stories of loss of sleep, panic attacks and visits to therapists and asked the same question - how did a ship the size of a tower block end up on its side, killing 32 passengers and crew. "I made it out, but now I want justice for the dead," said office worker Patrizia Bagnasco.

Giacomo Brignone, a pizza restaurant owner from the island of Lampedusa, arrived with his wife and 9-year-old daughter Lina, who said: "I remember people praying, no one knowing what to do, and the cold."

The hearing was procedural, covering the appointment of experts to analyse the ship's black box.

Italian lawyer Pietro Ilardi said that Irina Navarova, a 25-year-old Russian ship's entertainer, sustained serious facial injuries when she fell from a deck, tumbled down the tilted ship's hull and swam to shore. "She is scarred for life and the firm offered her just €3000 ($4776) in compensation because she was not in the union," said Ilardi.

"Schettino was an imbecile, a criminal," said Francesca Scarramuzzi, 65, a retired teacher who was on board. "But I would like to know if the company delayed abandoning ship in order to try and make it into port to avoid the compensation triggered by using lifeboats."

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A lawyer representing Costa Cruises denied the firm had told Schettino not to abandon ship, despite 17 calls between the captain and company official Roberto Ferrarini in the hour after the collision.

Apart from Schettino, eight other ship's officers and Costa executives are under investigation, including Ferrarini, who joined the emergency team set up by the firm to assist the more than 1000 passengers and crew on another company vessel, the Costa Allegra, which was towed into the Seychelles after a fire knocked out all power on board.

As salvage workers wrap up the job of pumping out the fuel from the Costa Concordia, Costa Cruises was taking bids for the job of pulling the ship off the rocks and towing it to the breaker's yard.

- Observer