Disgraced cruise ship captain faces survivors

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The Independent Online

The man accused of causing the Costa Concordia disaster earlier this year, in which 32 people lost their lives, has come face to face with survivors at a hearing that may see him stand trial for manslaughter.

Francesco Schettino, 51, even shook hands with a passenger who escaped the cruise ship on 13 January, after it collided with rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.

"Yes, we have to find out the truth," Mr Schettino was heard telling passenger Lucia Castro, one of the first people rescued. After briefly shaking the disgraced captain's hand, Mr Castro concurred: "We hope that the truth is established."

Mr Castro was one of the first passengers to reach dry land after the vessel began sinking. Despite being captain, Mr Schettino was not far behind. He has told investigators that he tripped into a lifeboat, to explain why he left the doomed vessel ahead of hundreds of his passengers.

The hearing in the Tuscan port of Grosseto will decide whether Mr Schettino is indicted on charges of abandoning ship before his passengers and of multiple manslaughter. Five crew members, including the vessel's second-in-command, Ciro Ambrosio, may also be indicted after the hearing.

Marine experts have already said that a crowd-pleasing but risky manoeuvre in which the ship was sailed too close to shore caused the fatal collision. They also said that delays in evacuating the liner, which had over 4,000 passengers and crew aboard, were responsible for most if not all of the fatalities.

However, Mr Schettino has insisted that his skill in bringing the sinking ship closer to shore saved lives.

Other survivors were in a less forgiving mood than Mr Castro.

"We're lucky we're not dead," said Ernesto Carusotti, another passenger who stood outside the hearing with his wife. He added: "Schettino has to take his share of the blame, that's not in doubt. He shouldn't have changed route."

So many people are expected to attend the hearing, including 1,000 survivors and 120 lawyers, that it is being housed in a theatre rather than the town's courthouse.

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