The wife of the captain accused of grounding the Costa Concordia cruise ship said in an interview published Tuesday she was outraged over the way her husband had been portrayed by the media.
Captain Francesco Schettino has been blamed for causing the January 13 disaster in which at least 16 people died when the liner carrying 4,200 passengers ran aground off the coast of Italy and capsized.
"My husband is at the center of an unprecedented media storm," his wife, Fabiola Rossi, told French magazine Paris Match. "I cannot think of any other naval or air tragedy in which the responsible party was treated with such violence ... This is a man hunt, people are looking for a scapegoat, a monster."
Schettino - who has been charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship - has been branded a coward in Italian newspapers, after a recording of his conversation with a coast guard agent during the disaster was leaked to the press and widely circulated on the Web.
Asked if she was angry about his treatment, she said "wouldn't you be?"
He is "someone determined, firm and lucid. He is able to analyze situations, to understand and manage them. At home he is organized and meticulous, and otherwise he is a friendly and funny person who earns people's esteem," Rossi added in a version of the interview published on Paris Match's website.
In the recording with the coastguard, Schettino sounds bewildered and out of control as he is ordered back onto the ship and threatened with arrest.
Schettino's lawyer, who says his client admits partial responsibility for the disaster, is seeking to widen the investigation to include third parties with whom he was in contact, notably from ship owners, Costa Cruises.
The company, a unit the world's largest cruise ship operator Carnival Corp, has suspended Schettino and declared itself an injured party in the case. It has said "unfortunate human error" by Schettino caused the disaster.