|Francesco Schettino, captain of Costa Concordia in January 2012, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Wednesday // Photo by Susan J. Young|
It was judgment day on Wednesday in a Grosseto, Italy, courtroom as Captain Francesco Schettino, 54, was found guilty of manslaughter, wrecking the Costa Concordia and abandoning passengers after the ship's January 12 accident off Giglio, Italy.
Schettino was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Thirty-two of the ship’s passengers and crew died in the aftermath of that accident.
Schettino was not present in court as Judge Giovanni Puliatti read the verdict. The captain has vigorously denied all charges – claiming others bore responsibility and the ship's systems did not function properly after the accident.
Prosecutors had sought a 26-year jail term but a three-judge panel sentenced Schettino to 10 years for multiple manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck and one year for abandoning his passengers. Schettino has claimed from the outset that he’s the scapegoat for the accident fall-out.
Several crew members took a plea deal, were sentenced and are serving time -- but their sentences were far less.
Schettino's sentencing marked the end of a 19-month trial and more than three years since Costa Concordia ran aground; the ship eventually was parbuckled and was towed just a few months ago to Genoa for scrapping.
At the time of the accident, the cruise ship with more than 4,000 passengers onboard was sailing off the coast of Italy when Schettino ordered a “sail by” of Giglio, Italy, reportedly as a salute to family members and friends on the island. The ship hit rocks and capsized.
Witnesses testified that the captain's female friend, Domnica Cermortan, a Moldovan dancer, was with him on the bridge when the accident occurred.
To make matters worse, in the accident’s chaotic aftermath, Schettino was spotted by the Italian Coast Guard in a lifeboat rather than onboard helping the passengers evacuate. He claimed he had fallen into the lifeboat, but was ordered by an angry officer from the Italian Coast Guard to get back onboard and help the victims. He failed to do so.
Sobbing in court on the trial’s final day, Schettino told the judge he had spent the past few years in a media meat grinder. He’s expected to appeal to the verdict.