Costa Concordia captain say he was 'thrown off cruise liner'
The captain of the Costa Concordia did not abandon his ship but was inadvertently "thrown" off the cruise liner during a chaotic evacuation, his lawyer has said at the start of a long-anticipated trial.
The trial of Capt Francesco Schettino opened in Grosseto, in Tuscany, the nearest city to the island of Giglio, where the giant ship capsized on the night of July 13, 2012, with the loss of 32 lives.
The 52-year-old captain had not deliberately left hundreds of terrified passengers and crew members to their fate but had been "lightly thrown off" the ship by accident, said Domenico Pepe, his lawyer.
"The idea that he abandoned the ship is a wrong interpretation," Mr Pepe said outside court. "We want the truth to come out of this trial".
Capt Schettino has previously claimed that he accidentally "tripped" and tumbled into a lifeboat, which was then lowered and took him to shore.
He has been vilified by survivors for leaving the ship well before all the 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.
His refusal to go back on board sparked a furious reprimand from a coast guard officer who was trying to coordinate the evacuation, a recorded exchange which is likely to be played in court.
Once on dry land, he allegedly headed into Giglio's tiny port and booked himself into a hotel.
The captain, wearing a navy blue jacket and a white open-necked shirt, sat with his lawyers in front of the three judges who will conduct the trial.
Domnica Cemortan, a Moldovan ship's dancer who the captain dined with and then invited onto the bridge on the night of the disaster, was in court.
She has denied having a sexual relationship with the married captain.
Miss Cemortan, 26, is seeking £255,000 in damages from Capt Schettino and Costa Cruises, claiming that both he and the company failed to defend her publicly and that the firm failed to keep its promise to rehire her after the disaster.
She is also considering separate action against several Italian newspapers, magazines and TV channels who allegedly slandered her reputation for suggesting she had been involved with the captain.
Capt Schettino was mobbed by camera crews and journalists when he arrived for the start of the trial, entering the theatre through a back entrance.
He faces charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship, causing a shipwreck and causing personal injury to 150 passengers and crew.
He denies all the charges, claiming that the rocky reef the ship hit was not marked on his nautical charts and that after the collision he saved lives through his skilled manoeuvring of the ship, steering it into shallow water rather than let it drift out to sea. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in jail.
He says he has been made a scapegoat by Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the ship, claiming that managers encouraged him to sail close to Giglio in order to provide a spectacle for passengers.
The trial was adjourned after less than an hour because of a week-long, nationwide lawyers' strike involving many of the lawyers involved in the case.
The court will next sit on July 17, when there will be three days of hearings, but there will then be a long break over the summer, with proceedings resuming in September.
Up to 700 witnesses and plaintiffs are expected to attend the trial, meaning it could last for years.