Costa Cruises, the company whose Concordia cruise liner capsized in January last year with the loss of 32 lives, has made a deal with an Italian court that will limit its criminal liability for a fine of just €1 million.
The plea bargain payment, which curtails the cruise operator's criminal culpability for the disaster, is a set tariff. It means Costa Cruises will not face any more criminal charges and will now aim to participate in the forthcoming trial as an injured party.
"It is a balanced solution," the company's lawyer, Marco De Luca, told reporters today in Grosseto in Tuscany, where the court is based.
Critics of the company hit out at the size of the fine. "It is a regulated amount, but still, it hardly seems a lot given the magnitude of the disaster the company was involved in," said Giuliano Leuzzi, a lawyer for the national consumer group Codacons, which is leading a class action against the cruise operator.
Mr Leuzzi noted that despite the company curtailing its criminal responsibility with yesterday's plea bargain, one of its senior executives, marine operations director Roberto Ferrarini, is among the six suspects who may stand trial when the preliminary proceedings courts finally decides who is to be indicted in connection with the disaster.
"This shows in what a confused way this whole process has been handled by the court in Grosseto," he said.
At pre-trial hearings, an expert report suggested that Mr Ferrarini, the company's crisis management chief, appeared "not to have the pulse of the conditions of the ship" after the accident occurred. It added: "…when the captain told him that three sections of the vessel were flooded, he should have immediately told the captain to declare a general emergency and abandon ship". Mr Ferrarini and the company have blamed the ship's crew for failing to keep them fully informed of conditions onboard, after the vessel struck rocks off the shore of Giglio on 13 January 2012.
Some marine safety experts have said that if it were not for the considerable delay in abandoning ship, the loss of life would have been very much lower.
The final stages in this process of deciding on indictments will begin on Monday in the same court. The wrecked liner's captain, Francesco Schettino, who has been widely blamed for causing the tragedy, will be sent to trial for multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before his passengers if the judge accepts the prosecution's requests. Four other crew members may also be indicted.
Although Costa Cruises has paid only €1 million in order to limit its criminal liability, the civil costs will be very much higher.
In July last year, the family of the Costa Concordia disaster's youngest victim, 5-year-old Dayana Arlotti, received a seven-figure payment from the liner's owner; others were expected to follow.
Costa Cruises had already offered a basic €11,000 compensation payment to Cost Concordia survivors who were not injured or bereaved by the disaster.
However, Codacons, advised passengers to reject the offer and instead called for a €125,000 minimum for each passenger, saying that potential psychological trauma had to be taken into account.