Concordia trial could involve 250 plaintiffs

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Costa Concordia crashed into a rock off Giglio on January 13th 2012. Photo: Rvongher/Wikipedia
09:17 CEST+02:00
Francesco Schettino, captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship will go on trial in Italy on Tuesday, facing manslaughter charges over the liner's tragic sinking which cost 32 lives.

The courtroom drama could involve up to 450 witnesses and 250 plaintiffs, although the actual start of deliberations may have to be postponed because of a lawyers' strike on the same day.

Schettino, 52, faces three charges for multiple manslaughter, as well as causing environmental damage and abandoning the ship before all the passengers had been evacuated.

He has been dubbed "Captain Coward" by the tabloids but his defence claims he is being scapegoated and the blame for the wreck should be spread more widely, including the company.

Four other crew members and a manager from ship owner Costa Crociere who were also suspects have entered plea bargains likely to be formalised at separate court hearings starting on Monday.

They include Roberto Ferrarini, the head of ship owner Costa Crociere's crisis unit, and Jacob Rusli Bin, the ship's Indonesian helmsman.

Ferrarini, who was in constant contact with Schettino on the night of the disaster, faces a sentence of two years and 10 months in prison.

Costa Crociere, Europe's top cruise operator, earlier admitted responsibility as Schettino's employer and was ordered to pay €1.0 million in a controversial ruling that has excluded it from criminal proceedings.

Because of the large numbers expected at Schettino's trial, hearings will be held in a theatre in Grosseto, the city closest to the scene of the accident - the island of Giglio.

Criminal trials in Italy usually last for months or even years and some survivors have complained about the delay in bringing the case to court.

Hearings will also be held on July 17th, 18th and 19th.

A court official told AFP that the initial hearing on Tuesday could be wrapped up immediately if Schettino's defendants declare that they intend to adhere to a national lawyers' strike.

Among the 347 witnesses called by the prosecution is Domnica Cemortan, a young Moldovan woman who was in Schettino's company at the time of impact.

Another is coast guard official Gregorio De Falco, whose angry phone call to Schettino on the night of the disaster went viral after being leaked.

Schettino's lawyers have called 100 witnesses. Schettino has maintained media silence for months.

In the few remarks he has made, he has said he is "not afraid" of going to prison.

"I am at peace with my conscience," he said. "I will go to trial knowing that I can explain what happened, calmly."

Asked whether he felt guilty about the lives lost in the disaster, he said:

"I do not write fate".

His lawyers had requested a plea bargain but were turned down by the prosecutor's office.

The Costa Concordia crashed into a rock off Giglio on the night of January 13th, 2012 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.

Story continues below…

The ship, with a gross tonnage of 114,500 tons, veered wildly and then capsized.

A panicky evacuation was badly delayed and hampered because some lifeboats failed to deploy.

Hundreds of people were forced to jump into the sea to escape the sinking ship, many of them still wearing their formal evening wear. Among the plaintiffs in the case are Costa Crociere, the Italian state and Giglio.

Dozens of survivors have also launched civil lawsuits against Costa.

Most of the survivors who were not injured or did not lose loved ones have accepted the compensation of around €11,000 offered by Costa.

The ghostly wreck of the liner is still beached on its side near the shore of Giglio, a popular holiday destination that has seen a drop in tourist arrivals following the disaster.

Salvage crews are working to stabilise, refloat and tow away the hulk in an unprecedented operation that has been severely delayed.

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