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Italy ship disaster inquiry resumes

Six men could face manslaughter charges after 2012 Costa Concordia shipwreck in which 32 people were killed.

Last Modified: 15 Apr 2013 13:14
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The luxury cruise liner capsized after running aground on a reef near Giglio Porto [Reuters]

An Italian court has resumed a hearing into the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster, which left 32 people dead.

The case, which re-opened on Monday, is focusing on whether to hand down indictments to six men, including the ship's captain.

The men have been accused of contributing to the accident, which happened in January 2012, by delaying rescue operations.

Prosecutors want Captain Francesco Schettino to stand trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, misinforming coast guards during the rescue operation and abandoning the ship before all 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.

They also want four crew members and a land-based manager to face manslaughter charges.

The preliminary hearing, held in Groseto, Tuscany, is expected to focus on the passengers seeking damages due to injuries, trauma and loss.

A decision regarding the indictments was not expected to be reached on Monday.

Evacuation delayed

Schettino ordered the ship to be taken off course on January 13 last year to bring it closer to the island of Giglio, near Tuscany, as a favour to friends.

The ship crashed into a reef off the island, leaving a 70-metre gash in the hull and causing the liner to take on water and capsize.

This company has disregarded safety for the sake of its passengers, to just increase its profits. The industry must change.

John Artur Eaves, US lawyer representing survivors.

Passengers said the evacuation was delayed and by the time Schettino gave the evacuation order, the ship was listing so far to one side that many lifeboats could not be lowered.

Schettino has defended his actions, saying he saved lives by bringing the crippled ship closer to port.

He also stated that the reef was not on his nautical charts and denied abandoning ship, saying he fell off the liner when it titled at a near-90 degree angle.

First officer on duty on the bridge at the time of the crash, Ciro Ambrosino, is one of the four crew accused of wrongdoing.

Ambrosino's attorney Salvatore Catalano, said on Monday that his client was still suffering from what happened.

"From the point of view of responsibility, I can absolutely exclude that Ciro Ambrosio is responsible," Catalano said.

Lawyers representing victims were at the hearing to make the case for greater compensation than that offered by holding company Costa Crociere S.p.A immediately after the disaster.

Two weeks after the capsizing, Costa offered passengers $14,460 plus reimbursement for the cost of their cruises and extra travel expenses.

The offer was accepted by many passengers.

Massimiliano Gabrieli, who is representing several dozen Italian passengers, said they would be asking for $1.3m per victim.

Costa attorney Marco De Luca said the request was ridiculous.

Captain 'scapegoat'

Codacons, a consumer association which is suing Costa on behalf of some survivors, has published a report that showed key equipment on board apparently malfunctioned including its sealed doors and lifts.

Bruno Neri, a professor called by Codacons to carry out the technical analysis, said: "Schettino has been turned into a scapegoat."

The company negotiated a controversial plea bargain with the court in the criminal case last week in which it accepted limited responsibility as the employer of the suspects and was ordered to pay a $1.3m fine.

"This company has disregarded safety for the sake of its passengers, to just increase its profits. The industry must change," said John Artur Eaves, a US lawyer representing about 150 survivors.

The Costa Concordia remains on its side, grounded off Giglio's port.

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