Italy cruise ship hero among populist party hopefuls

The man hailed a hero in Italy after ordering the captain of a stricken cruise ship to return aboard was on Thursday one of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement's parliamentary hopefuls.

Italy cruise ship hero among populist party hopefuls
Livorno port official Gregorio De Falco is an M5S parliamentary hopeful. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Livorno port official Gregorio De Falco shot to fame for his orders to Francesco Schettino after the captain abandoned the Costa Concordia, which sank off Italy in 2012 in a disaster that killed 32 people.

Thousands of Italians have put themselves forward to run for the populist Five Stars (M5S) at the general election in March, according to Italian media reports, with De Falco the best known.

The movement's site crashed repeatedly on Wednesday as the deadline fell. Candidates will be selected in an online vote.

De Falco, 51, hopes to be picked to run for a seat in the Senate, the Corriere della Sera daily said.

Schettino, dubbed “Captain Coward” by the media for abandoning ship, spent most of the evacuation on a rock as terrified passengers threw themselves off the tilting liner at night after it hit an outcrop off the island of Giglio.

A telephone call transcript later emerged of De Falco demanding the captain return to ship.

When Schettino resists, De Falco warns: “You may have managed to save yourself but there, it will really go badly… I will create a lot of trouble for you. Get on board, for fuck's sake!”

“But do you realise that it is dark and we can't see anything?” Schettino asks, leaving an incredulous De Falco to wonder: “What do you want to do, Schettino? Go home? It is dark so you want to go home?”

The conversation was seen in Italy as an allegory of the country's “two souls”; on one side the “hair-creamed godfather used to breaking the rules”, on the other the military hero with rigorous ethics.

The movement did not confirm the number of aspiring M5S candidates, but Italian dailies estimated that between 2,000 and 10,000 people had uploaded bids to run.

The latest polls show the M5S pocketing some 28 percent of the vote, ahead of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party on 25 percent.

While the centre-right parties — including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Go Italy — lag behind individually, they are expected to form a coalition which would hand them over 35 percent of the vote.