Captain Francesco Schettino leaves the court room of the converted Teatro Moderno theater on the second day of his trial. // Photo by The Associated Press
Frances D'Emilio, The Associated Press, September 24, 2013
GROSSETO, Italy (AP) — The Italian captain whose cruise ship wrecked off the Tuscan coast is getting some support during his trial from an unexpected corner: representatives of the tragedy's many victims.
Capt. Francesco Schettino, who faces 20 years in prison if convicted of charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship, insists he's not the only one responsible for the Costa Concordia shipwreck, which left 32 people dead.
Schettino's lawyers as well as attorneys for relatives of the dead and the tragedy's survivors, raised questions about other potential factors, such as emergency generators, pumps and elevators that failed to work, that could have increased the casualty rate.
The judge ruled in favor of their requests for an inspection of the ship, which was recently raised upright in a major salvage operation.
The luxury cruise liner crashed into a reef, took on water, suffered a blackout and capsized when Schettino steered it close to the island of Giglio on Jan. 13, 2012. It was carrying some 4,200 passengers and crew.
Schettino allegedly took the off-route maneuver in part because he wanted to impress his passengers with a close-up view of the island's twinkling lights. Unlike five other Costa Crociere SpA employees, he was not allowed to plea bargain.
"Schettino is the only defendant, but he's not the only one responsible," said Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer for several survivors in a civil suit attached to the criminal trial. "He's not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn't be launched nor for the emergency generators" that failed.
Bruno Neri, a University of Pisa electronic engineer advising the Codacons consumer group, whose lawyers are also involved in the trial, said the ship was "doomed to sink" but that so many passengers didn't necessarily have to die.
"The passengers weren't chained to the ship," Neri told The Associated Press during a trial recess Tuesday. "If it weren't for the blackout, perhaps some of them would have lived."
The haunting question — Had everything aboard worked properly, would there have been fewer deaths? — goes beyond the court-ordered mandate of a panel of technical and marine experts in the case, who have refused to speculate.
Costa Crociere SpA itself was allowed to plea bargain and ended up paying a maximum 1-million-euro ($1.3 million) fine as administrative sanctions. Costa is a division of the Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise company.
Schettino seemed buoyed Tuesday that lawyers for the victims were pressing for others to be held accountable. He told the AP during a break in the trial, "I want the truth to emerge."
Costa's lawyer at the trial, Marco De Luca, contended that findings already reported by the panel of experts were thorough, and opposed requests for an inspection of the ship now that it has been raised upright.
But Judge Giovanni Puliatti ruled in favor of Schettino and the survivors' lawyers, saying that an inspection of generators and water-tight doors would take place once the ship is deemed safe.
Costa, which is paying for the wrecked ship's removal and the towing planned for spring, also is seeking damages at Schettino's trial.
Follow Frances D'Emilio at http://twitter.com/fdemilio