Costa Concordia trial: Was captain Francesco Schettino really the only one at fault for the disaster?

The doomed cruise liner's skipper has been convicted, but some think he has been made a scapegoat

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The Independent Online

Francesco Schettino made an irresistible villain as the world sought someone to blame for the Costa Concordia disaster. Not only had he recklessly piloted his huge cruise liner on to rocks, he also escaped the scene of the crime, leaving passengers to drown.

For much of the world’s media, the perma-tanned, mulleted former captain was gleefully portrayed, too, as the stereotypical Italian: flashy, devious and cowardly. This week, after being sentenced to 16 years in prison for the manslaughter of the 32 people who died during the 2012 incident, Schettino aroused further indignation by avoiding incarceration or even house arrest ahead of his appeals.

Accusations of undue leniency were not long in coming, with survivors’ groups noting that Schettino’s punishment amounted to just six months for each death. Others, however, said the reviled former skipper, while clearly guilty, had indeed been made a scapegoat, and pointed at figures whom they thought had got off far too lightly.

Pivotal in the prosecutor’s case against Schettino was the charge that his almost-hour-long delay in calling for the ship to be abandoned caused most if not all of the fatalities on the night of 13 January.


But the national consumer group Codacons and some experts point to court documents showing that technical failings in the vessel and the haphazard evacuation plans added to the death toll. Giuliano Leuzzi, Codacons’ chief lawyer, said there was an “obvious causal link between them and numerous deaths”.

And referring to suggestions that the delayed order to abandon ship was to blame for most if not all the fatalities, Professor Bruno Nero, a safety expert at Pisa University who advises Codacons, said: “Do we really believe that if hundreds or thousands of people had fled straight away into the seas in the darkness in January, then there wouldn’t have been a single death? I don’t.”

Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer and a frequent critic of Costa Cruises and its US parent company, Carnival Cruises, concurred. “Captain Schettino, although clearly guilty, was quickly turned into a scapegoat by Costa Cruises [the Concordia’s owner] and its parent company, Carnival Corporation,” he told The Independent on Sunday. “The disaster involved a myriad of factors that point to corporate recklessness, in addition to the obvious negligence of the captain. Poor communication between the crew members and passengers, inadequate safety procedures, poor evacuation procedures, and technical defects in the ship (faulty water-tight doors) all revealed legal fault by the cruise line.”

The Costa Concordia disaster in 2012 resulted in the deaths of 32 people (AP)

Costa Cruises declined to comment on this, although it has previously disputed that there were any significant technical defects.

Mr Leuzzi has described the trial in the Tuscan town of Grosseto as “absurd”. He says Schettino should be punished, but thinks that some of his senior colleagues should also have been on trial. Four crew members, including the second-in-command, Ciro Ambrosio, had plea bargains accepted, as did Roberto Ferrarini, the crisis co-ordinator of Costa Cruises. None is serving jail time.

There is also controversy about who was responsible for the risky, unofficial manoeuvre that caused the vessel to hit rocks. It emerged soon after the disaster that cruise ships regularly carried out crowd-pleasing inchini, or salutes. Costa Cruises’ chairman and CEO, Pierluigi Foschi, told an Italian parliamentary committee that “we have to do them like everyone else because we are in a global competition”.

Last Wednesday, Schettino, with typical chutzpah and self-absorption, declared that “a part of me died” on the night of the disaster, while sobbing in court as he pleaded for leniency. But he also claimed that he had been sacrificed to save economic interests – and there he might have more of a case.

This week, it was reported that Costa Cruises was seeking to move some of its operations from Italy to Germany to distance the company from the Concordia disaster. Mr Walker suggested this process was already well under way. He said: “No one remembers CEO Luigi Foschi, but everyone knows and despises Captain Coward.”

Two captains found guilty over Hong Kong ferry tragedy

The captain of a Hong Kong commuter ferry that collided with another boat in 2012, killing 39 people, was also found guilty of manslaughter yesterday.

A nine-member jury also found Lai Sai-ming guilty of endangering the safety of others at sea in what was Hong Kong’s biggest maritime tragedy in decades, the South China Morning Post said.

The same jury found the captain of the other, smaller boat, Chow Chi-wai, innocent of manslaughter but guilty of endangering the safety of others at sea. All of those killed, including eight children, and most of the nearly 100 injured in the collision were aboard his boat.

The two captains had blamed each other for the collision on 1 October which left the highly organised and overwhelmingly safe southern Chinese city traumatised. The verdicts came down after a 60-day trial and four days of deliberations.

The captain of the commuter ferry was found guilty of the manslaughter of 39 people

The manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, while endangering safety at sea carries a maximum of four years and a fine of HK$200,000 (£16,900).

The larger vessel was heading from Hong Kong Island to the outlying island of Lamma when the collision occurred. The smaller boat, owned by Hong Kong Electric Company, was taking employees on an excursion to watch the Chinese National Day fireworks display.

Fleets of ferries are a key part of the city’s transport network, running frequently across the harbour and to outlying islands and the gambling enclave of Macau.

The South China Morning Post quoted the judge in the case, Andrew Bruce, as saying that both captains had been “grossly negligent” in failing to keep a proper lookout and not responding effectively to avoid the collision.