Italian captain Francesco Schettino has returned on board his stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship, more than two years after leaving it in a hurry as it sank in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.

Wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses, the captain fought off a media scrum on Thursday as he arrived in the tiny port on Giglio Island, donned a life jacket and got on a boat that took him out to the vessel, said the AFP news agency.

Schettino's visit was part of a court-ordered inspection in the ongoing trial against him for multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers had been evacuated.

"They want to show that I am weak, just like two years ago. It's not true! I want to show I'm a gentleman, not a coward," Schettino, who was dubbed "Captain Coward" by the tabloids, was quoted by Italian media as saying.

Schettino claims he fell onto a lifeboat as the ship keeled over on the night of the disaster on January 13, 2012 and then stayed on dry land because he wanted to coordinate the nighttime evacuation from there.

With 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, the giant luxury liner crashed into rocks just off Giglio as it attempted a risky "salute" manoeuvre.

It capsized near the coast but has since been righted in the biggest-ever salvage operation of its kind and is due to be towed away for scrapping in June.

Schettino returned to the island on Tuesday for the first time since that night and had been hiding from the media glare in a white-painted house on a cobbled side street near the port in a picturesque fishing community that numbers only a few hundred people.

Source: AFP