Costa Concordia trial: Francesco Schettino in court accused of multiple manslaughter

32 people died in the accident off the Italian coast

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The Independent Online

The former captain who capsized the Costa Concordia luxury liner off the Italian coast finally took the stand today, accused of multiple manslaughter.

Francesco Schettino said that he had performed the fatal manoeuvre, close to Giglio, in order to salute a former ship’s captain who lived on the island, and to please the vessel’s passengers and its maitre d’, Antonello Tievoli.

He told the court in Grosseto: “I killed three birds with one stone.”

In the event, he struck rocks close to shore on the night of 13 January, resulting in the deaths of 32 people, most of whom drowned inside the 290m vessel, after the call to abandon ship had been delayed for nearly an hour.

A dossier prepared by prosecutors has described how terrified passengers finding themselves with no space on life rafts, fell into the sea while others slipped and became trapped inside the flooded vessel as it tilted at an alarming angle, within an hour of tearing a 50-metre hole in its side.

By the time the “abandon ship” order was given, lifeboats on one side of the ship were virtually unusable because of the tilt and panic spread as people rushed for the remaining ones. 

 

Mr Schettino told the court that unofficial sail-pasts of this type were a common, crowd-pleasing practice, done to drum up publicity. "We did it for commercial reasons, so people on land could take pictures and passengers could see the island," he said.

He is also charged with causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before his passengers. Mr Schettino has claimed that he reached dry land ahead of other people after accidentally falling into a life raft from which he was unable escape.

The former captain’s lawyers have stressed that no one died in the collision itself, and that the failure of a backup generator and supposedly watertight compartments that were flooded created problems during the evacuation,

Mr Schettino, who denies call charges, is on trial alone after other crew members, including the vessel’s second in command Ciro Ambrosio, have had plea bargains accepted, as has Roberto Ferrarini, the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises.

If convicted, Mr Schettino could receive up to 20 years in prison. But with the glacial speed of Italian justice – Mr Schettino is entitled to two appeals should he be convicted next year – a definitive verdict could still be many years away.