Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Costa captain faces disaster court

Francesco Schettino, left, the former captain of Costa Concordia, leaves his home in Meta Di Sorrento, near Naples (AP)

The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship has appeared in court to hear the evidence against him, while passengers who survived and families of the 32 who died went just "to look him in the eye."

The case of Francesco Schettino, 51, generated so much interest that a theatre had to be turned into a courtroom in the Tuscan city of Grosseto to accommodate all those with a legitimate claim to be at the closed-door hearing.

Wearing dark glasses and a suit, Schettino used a back entrance to slip into the theatre, making no comment to reporters outside. He listened intently to the proceedings, where his lawyers raised some objections to the evidence being submitted.

The Concordia sank after Schettino, in a stunt, took it off course and close to the Tuscan island of Giglio last January. The ship then ran aground and capsized. Schettino became a lightning rod for international disdain for having left the ship before everyone was evacuated.

Hearings this week will help decide whether the judge will order a trial for Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still aboard. He denies the accusations and has not been charged. Any trial is unlikely to begin before next year.

Crash survivors, victims' relatives and their lawyers attended the hearing on the evidence against Schettino and eight others accused in the shipwreck, including crew members and officials from Concordia owner Costa Crociere.

"We want to look him in the eye to see how he will react to the accusations," said German survivor Michael Liessen, 50.

A key question is how much of the blame should Schettino himself bear, and how much responsibility for the disaster lies with his crew and employer, Costa Crociere, a division of the Miami-based Carnival.

Last month, court-appointed experts delivered a 270-page report of what went wrong that night based on an analysis of data recorders, ship communications equipment, testimony and other evidence.

The experts, who included two admirals and two engineers, laid most of the blame for the collision with the reef and the botched evacuation on Schettino. But they also noted that not all crew members understood Italian, not all had current safety and evacuation certifications, and not all passengers had had the chance to participate in evacuation drills.

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