Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Disaster captain: No plea bargain

Former captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship Francesco Schettino has been deined a plea bargain (AP)

The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that ran aground off Tuscany last year, killing 32 people, has failed in his bid for a plea bargain.

Capt. Francesco Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew were evacuated.

His lawyer Francesco Pepe said Schettino had wanted to defend himself at trial, but when the other defendants all sought plea bargains, his defence team sought one, too.

Mr Pepe said prosecutors have agreed to plea bargains for all except Schettino. That means Schettino might be the only defendant if a trial is ordered.

A judge must rule on prosecutors' request that Schettino be indicted. Schettino says the Concordia struck a reef not on nautical charts. In seeking the plea bargain, Schettino's defence team sought a prison sentence of three years and four months. If he goes to trial and is convicted, Schettino could face as much as 20 years in prison.

The Concordia began taking on water and listing badly after its hull was gashed by the reef. Survivors have said the evacuation was delayed and chaotic and not all the lifeboats could be used because of the sharp tilt of the ship. Many passengers and crew jumped into the sea, swimming to safety on the island.

Last year, court-ordered experts pinned the blame for the grounding on Schettino. But they also said the crew and Costa Crociere, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., made a series of blunders and safety breaches that contributed to the disaster. Experts concluded that crew members were not properly trained or certified in safety and emergency drills, and that Costa had delayed alerting coastal authorities about the disaster, an accusation Costa has denied.

The wreck of the Concordia still lies on its side, a blight off the picturesque island of Giglio, surrounded by pristine waters.

Marine recovery experts have devised a complicated plan to roll it upright and tow it from the seabed where it came to rest. Original estimates envisioned that the wreckage would be gone in time for this summer's tourist season, but that has slipped back. It is not clear now when the cruise ship will be removed to a port on the Italian mainland.

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