GROSSETO, Italy, Feb 11 (Reuters) – The former captain of the doomed Costa Concordia on Wednesday gave his final address to a court where he is being tried over the loss of the giant cruiseliner, saying he had been made a scapegoat in a disaster in which 32 people died in January 2012.
The court in Grosseto, Italy, may hand down a verdict as early as Wednesday evening for Schettino, 54, on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, defence lawyers said.
In his last address to the court, Schettino said he had been exposed to a media “meatgrinder” which had distorted his role in the wreck and “put the entire responsibility for this incident on to me, with no respect for the truth.”
Investigators severely criticised his handling of the disaster, accusing him of bringing the 290 metre-long vessel too close to shore when it struck rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio, tearing a hole in its side and setting off a chaotic night evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
He has also been accused of delaying evacuation and losing control of the operation during which he abandoned ship before all the 4,200 passengers and crew had been rescued.
Prosecutors have asked for a prison sentence of 26 years for Schettino, who has admitted some responsibility as captain of the ship but denies blame for deaths that occurred during the evacuation.
He was left alone in the dock to answer for the disaster after the ship’s owners Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp paid a 1 million euro ($1.1 million) fine to settle and prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five other officials.
Schettino’s request for a plea bargain was turned down.
Struggling with emotion at times, he rejected prosecution accusations that he had shown no sense of responsibility or compassion for the victims, saying “grief should not be put on show to make a point.”
The Costa Concordia wreck was one of the highest-profile shipping disasters of recent years, leaving the massive hulk abandoned on its side for two-and-a-half years before it was towed away in the most expensive maritime wreck recovery in history.
Schettino’s defence team argued he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the ship close to the island as it sank. They say the sentence sought by prosecutors goes beyond even sentences sought for mafia killers.
“I believe and hope that the court will be able to establish the fact that the deaths happened after the impact,” his lawyer Domenico Pepe told reporters. (Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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