File photo. Francesco Schettino during an interview following the January 2012 Costa Concordia disaster.

File photo. Francesco Schettino during an interview following the January 2012 Costa Concordia disaster.

By Silvia Ognibene

GROSSETO, Italy, April 15 (Reuters) – An Italian judge began hearing a request on Monday to send the former captain of the Costa Concordia and five other ship’s officers to trial over the accident which sank the liner with the loss of 32 lives in January 2012.

Prosecutors are seeking to have the 52-year-old captain, Francesco Schettino, tried on charges including manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Schettino, appeared in court in the Tuscan town of Grosseto wearing a grey suit and blue striped tie for the opening of the pre-trial hearings, which are expected to run until April 24.

If convicted, he could face 20 years in jail but his lawyer said the case should not go to trial.

“This was an accident at work. You cannot criminalise a man because he had an accident while working,” Francesco Pepe told reporters during a break in the hearing.

Judge Pietro Molino will also consider whether five other officers should face charges ranging from manslaughter to failure to cooperate with marine authorities.

The luxury liner had just begun a Mediterranean cruise when it came too close to shore, hitting a rock that tore a gash in its hull and causing it to capsize in shallow waters just outside the port of Giglio.

Both Schettino and the ship’s owners Costa Cruises were heavily criticised over both the accident and the chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew. Costa paid 1 million euros ($1.31 million) to settle potential criminal charges although the payment did not affect civil lawsuits.

The other people who could face trial are bridge officers Ciro Ambrosio and Silvia Coronica, helmsman Jacob Rusli, cabin services manager Manrico Giampedroni and the fleet crisis coordinator, Roberto Ferrarini.

Separately, lawyers for the local government in Giglio said it was seeking at least 80 million euros in damages from Costa.

A lawyer for the company, a unit of the world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Cruises, part of Carnival Corp , said it aimed to compensate parties that had suffered.

“We will not try to avoid our responsibilities to compensate those who genuinely suffered loss,” Alessandro Carella said following Monday’s hearing.

Another Costa lawyer, Marco De Luca, said the company should be allowed to seek damages for the loss of the cruise liner, a position opposed by lawyers representing victims of the crash.

“Apart from the victims, Costa is the one that suffered the most damage. We lost a 500 million-euro ($655-million) ship,” De Luca told the court.

Schettino was held up to ridicule after investigators of the accident said he brought the 290-metre-long (951-ft) Concordia too close to shore in a manoeuvre meant to “salute” Giglio island, and then left his ship before the evacuation was complete.

A coastguard’s telephoned order to the captain, “Get back on board, damn it!” became a catch phrase in Italy after the accident prompted a bout of national soul-searching over responsibility and leadership during times of crisis. ($1 = 0.7635 euros) (Writing by Naomi O’Leary; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

(c) 2013 Thomson Reuters, Click For Restrictions

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  • Graham Smith

    Guilty on ALL counts. Innocent lives lost. How, in God’s name, did he EVER get command of ANY ship, never mind the one he wrecked?

  • Jacques DuBois

    This Bag of Douche needs to be taken care of…

    • MotherFucker

      You need to be taken care of you piece of shit!

  • Erik Hammarstrom

    It is wise to await the official average statement when we may hopefully learn what really expired in the wheelhouse of that hapless vessel.
    I am not that upset regarding Capt. Schettino leaving the vessel. Do we yet know what transpired in the dark night onboard the vessel almost on its side?
    Physically and psychically, what could be achieved by the master remaining onboard trying to get a safe foothold and a steady grip – wherever he was located – to do what? Nada! Maybe he was in a state of severe chock knowing facts and course of events that ended with the vessel on shore and therefore unable to take relevant decisions? I would not be surprised!
    Once I have myself abandoned a vessel at sea. The “Old man”, in its real sense of the word, was best placed in a lifeboat while better suited officers and crew remained onboard to do what could possibly be done in order to save (unsuccessfully) the vessel. Later in life, as an accident investigator, I have on several occasions boarded vessels with a permanent list of + 20 degrees. I know what it takes to stay upright during such conditions. To move around on slippery floors and decks will require mountaineering experience and equipment. In addition your sense of balance is affected and thus your capacity to use what is inside your frontal bone.
    I am in no way defending Capt. Schettiono’s actions, or lack of actions, as some of us claim. Let’s wait until all the cards are on the table. Then there may be room for our judgment of a fellow mariner and hopefully learn from this catastrophe where the crew obviously made a fantastic job when safely evacuating passengers and fellow crew members.

    Capt. Erik Hammarstrom

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