Costa Concordia trial reopens in Italy

Captain accused of multiple manslaughter and causing loss of cruise liner which capsized killing 32 people last year.

    The trial against captain Francesco Schettino over a deadly shipwreck off Italy in 2012 which cost 32 lives, has begun in Grosseto, the closest city to the accident off Tuscany's Giglio island.

    Schettino, the sole defendant, is charged with multiple manslaughter, abandoning the Costa Concordia cruise liner and causing the shipwreck.

    He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted over the incident in which the vessel struck a jagged reef off Giglio, took on water and capsized.

    Prosecutors contend that Schettino steered the ship too close to the island's coastline in a publicity stunt for Costa Crociere, a British-American owned Italian cruise line which owns the vessel, but the company denies that version of events.

    Francesco Pepe, Schettino's lawyer, said on Wednesday that his client had "remained on the ship for as long as it was possible and until physics forced him to jump on the boat or out to sea".

    The trial officially began last week but was suspended following a lawyers' strike. Hearings are also expected to take place on Thursday and Friday.

    Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela, reporting from Grosetto, said that the court will hear testimonies from more than 400 passengers and workers who survived the incident.

    The whole trial process is going to have about 60 hearings, which could be going for a year, she added.

    Schettino slipped through a back door and did not speak to reporters as he arrived at Grosseto's theatre, where the trial is held to allow room for the large numbers of survivors and lawyers expected to attend.

    Plea bargains

    Five other defendants successfully sought plea bargains, and their hearing will be held in Grosseto on July 20.

    Their sentences are expected to be far milder than 20 years in prison.

    Survivors described a chaotic and delayed evacuation, with crew allegedly at first downplaying the seriousness of the collision, which caused a gash 70 metres long in the Costa Concordia's side and let seawater rush into the ship.

    Schettino has claimed he had to abandon the capsizing boat while people were still aboard before it became impossible to launch any more lifeboats, and he planned to direct the rest of the evacuation from shore.

    He also has claimed that in the darkness he did not see a ladder he could have used to climb back aboard.

    The Costa Concordia's wreck blights the seascape for yet another summer in an otherwise pristine part of the Tuscan archipelago, confounding experts' initial predictions that the ship would have been removed by spring 2013.

    Trial against parent company

    Survivors’ lawyer Michael Verhoven told Al Jazeera that they also have a case against Costa Cruises’ parent company Carnival in the US beginning next week.

    “We are seeking compensation for about 300 people, who were on the Costa Concordia," Verhoven said.

    "And we charged files against Carnival blaming them for false, cheap design and for gross negligence regarding safety rules because it is Carnival who set the rules for all cruise ships”.

    “First responsible is the captain, but as times goes by people understand that the ones really responsible are the ones who allow the captain to do what he did, which is Costa Cruise and mostly Carnival who sets the rules.”

    Every case will be evaluated on an individual basis, starting from psychological damage to injuries and to death cases, Verhoven added.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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