Captain Francesco Schettino, who is on trial for multiple manslaughter, insists that he slipped off the Costa Concordia as it rolled over after hitting rocks off the island of Giglio, and fell onto a lifeboat which carried him ashore.
In a widely-quoted phone call a coast guard official is heard upbraiding Schettino and ordering him to "get back on board, for fuck's sake" – an order the former captain refused point blank to follow.
"When I got to the rock where Schettino was, I told him I would take him back to Giglio port so he could get on a dinghy and be taken back to the Concordia, and get back on board if need be," Carlo Galli, the head of the traffic police coordinating the rescue, told the court.
Thirty-two people were killed in the nighttime disaster, which happened when passengers were sitting down to dinner.
Some drowned after throwing themselves into the icy sea, others were trapped in the lifts as the huge liner sank.
Helicopters desperately ferrying survivors to safety flew over Schettino as he sat huddled on an outcrop near the shore, Galli said.
"He told me he had to stay, to supervise his ship. When I repeated the invitation to take him back, another officer from the ship said it was a good idea to try and get back on board. Schettino said no again," he said.
Captain 'was dry' after leaving ship
Schettino has claimed he begged the lifeboat he found himself on to turn around and take him back to the ship, but his request was refused.
He has also said the ship's owner Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, told him by telephone not to return to the stricken liner.
"Schettino was dry, unlike the rest of the passengers with him. He asked to use my mobile phone, but I needed it to coordinate the rescue. We took the passengers to shore, he remained behind with one or two other officials," Galli said.
The Concordia hit rocks off the island of Giglio on the night of January 14th 2012, with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.
Schettino has admitted to performing a risky "salute" manoeuvre near Giglio island and is accused of delaying the evacuation process after the impact.
The court heard from Andrea Bongiovanni, an official who says he tried to persuade Schettino to sound the alarm long before he eventually gave the order to do so.
"The ship's safety manager and I loudly insisted, along with the second in command Roberto Blosio, that the general alarm should be sounded. But captain Schettino gestured that we should wait, he didn't give the order," he said.
"We only managed to later," and once the extent of the damage to the ship became clear, "the captain looked me in the eyes and said: 'My career is over'," he added.
The trial, which began in July last year, is expected to last for months as hundreds of witnesses testify.