Concordia trial could involve 250 plaintiffs

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.

Concordia trial could involve 250 plaintiffs
Costa Concordia crashed into a rock off Giglio on January 13th 2012. Photo: Rvongher/Wikipedia

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.

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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Venice anti-cruise ship activists cheer temporary victory as liners pull out

A Venice citizen's group is cheering a temporary victory as cruise lines pull out of the lagoon city this year due to coronavirus logistical challenges, even as pressure rises from furloughed port workers.

Venice anti-cruise ship activists cheer temporary victory as liners pull out
Photo: AFP

MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises announced this week that their first Mediterranean cruises after a months-long hiatus due to the pandemic would depart from Genoa and Trieste, larger ports that make new coronavirus-related regulations, such as social distancing, easier to ensure.

On Friday, the group No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) plans an evening gathering to celebrate what organisers called a small step forward in an eight-year battle to ban the massive ships from Venice's environmentally fragile waters.

No departures from the UNESCO-listed city are planned for the rest of the year, as the two companies trim back their schedules and itineraries. Many big cruise ships will also be skipping Venice as a port of call.

“This isn't the final victory. But it's an important step and we believe it opens a new phase of negotiations in which the game has changed,” No Grandi Navi committee member Marta Sottoriva told AFP.

The port of Venice is a major economic driver for the city, bringing in hoards of day-trippers who swell the number of annual visits to the city to over 30 million, according to some estimates.

Environmentalists charge that massive waves generated from the hulking liners, which are often hundreds of metres long and several stories high, erode the foundations of the floating city.

No Grandi Navi warned earlier this month it would resort to unspecified “sabotage” were the big ships to return to Venice for the key August tourist season.

The pandemic has laid bare the reality that Venice should not rely solely on tourism to sustain its economy, Sottoriva said.

The group argues that the current crisis opens the door to a new, more balanced development model for the city, but political will is required.

Complicating the issue for city authorities are port employees who have not worked since March.

On Monday, workers held a protest at Venice's maritime terminal – usually home to 30 cruise operators – with banners proclaiming that as many as four million cruise-related jobs, from baggage handlers and tug operators to hotel workers, were put at risk by the decision to use alternate ports.

“Calling into question cruises in Venice is not a simple environmental or image issue, you can't play with the future of workers and families,” they said in a statement, as reported by news portal.

Faced with no employment for the rest of the year, workers said they were launching “a cry of alarm and concern that does not exclude further demonstrations in coming weeks.”

Both the environmentalists and workers decry what they call silence from politicians, and long-stalled decisions on proposals to reroute cruise ships to bypass the lagoon in front of Saint Mark's Square.