Tuesday 16 January 2018

16 years in prison for Concordia captain in manslaughter verdict

Nick Squires

Captain Francesco Schettino, who was at the helm of the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it hit the rocks in Italy in January 2012, has been sentenced to 16 years in jail, having being found guilty of manslaughter yesterday.

He was accused of taking the liner too close to the shore and then abandoning ship with passengers and crew still on board.

He denied the charges and said he was being made a scapegoat.

Earlier, he choked up in court as he said that he too had "died" after the 2012 disaster in which 32 people lost their lives.

"Along with the 32 victims of the shipwreck, I died too," he told the court in Grosseto, Tuscany, in an impassioned speech to the panel of three judges who had to decide on prosecution's demands that he be sent to prison for 26 years.

Defence lawyers had asked for him to be acquitted on all charges, arguing that his decision to delay giving the abandon ship order saved lives because, when it was given the Concordia had drifted close to shore, enabling most passengers and crew to reach dry land.

The stricken Costa Concordia
The stricken Costa Concordia
Domnica Cemortan was with Captain Schettino on the bridge before the ship hit rocks

Choking back tears and struggling to maintain his composure, the 54-year-old former commander of the ship claimed that he had been unjustly vilified by the media, and that the image presented to the world "does not correspond to reality".

He was accused of multiple counts of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a maritime disaster, with prosecutors requesting that he be found guilty on all counts and jailed for 26 years and three months.

However, he rejected the charges and claimed that he had shared "moments of pain with survivors at my home".

He said he had been unfairly accused of not displaying enough sensitivity towards the victims of the tragedy.

He had been made the sole scapegoat of the disaster by the authorities and Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owned the Concordia.

"Three days (after the disaster), my head was offered by the powers-that-be," he said.

"I have spent the last three years in a media meat-grinder," he told the court, adding that his life had been ruined.

"All the responsibility has been loaded on to me with no respect for the truth or for the memory of the victims."

"Enough with this," he said, ending his declaration to the panel of judges.

Immediately after he finished, the judges retired to consider their verdict. His lawyer, Domenico Pepe, told the court that so many technical details had been presented during the 19-month trial that it was hard for "an ordinary mortal" to discern the truth of what happened.

He compared the great weight of detail, contained in thousands of pages of evidence, to "an enormous minestrone (soup)."

Mr Pepe said that some good had come of the disaster because safety rules on cruise ships around the world had been greatly improved.

"This trial has been useful, in saving human lives in future," he said in the defence's final summing up.

Capt Schettino is the only person on trial for the disaster, after Costa Cruises, a unit of the US-based Carnival Corp, paid a €1m fine to settle and prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five other officials.

Capt Schettino's request for a similar plea bargain was turned down. He was singled out for blame by the official report into the sinking of the vessel, almost a floating city with its 4,300 passengers and crew members.

It alleged he deliberately changed course to perform a risky night-time sail-past salute to people on the tiny island of Giglio.

He told his trial he "wanted to kill three birds with one stone": to please the passengers, salute a retired captain on Giglio and do a favour to the vessel's head waiter, who was from the island.

He has rejected rumours that he had wanted to impress his lover, Domnica Cemortan, with him at the helm.

As details of the unplanned change of course emerged, ship owner Costa Cruises distanced itself from the captain who, it said, had made "serious errors of judgement" and carried out a manoeuvre "unauthorised, unapproved and unknown to Costa".

The captain told the court that he had been sacrificed to safeguard "economic interests", arguing that the court should be considering an entire organisation rather than one man.

Widely vilified in Italy for leaving his ship while passengers were still on board, Capt Schettino's reputation was further damaged when transcripts suggested he had not told the coastguard initially of the gravity of the damage to the ship.

"Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad.

"I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board!" says Coastguard Capt Gregorio De Falco, repeatedly ordering Schettino to return to the stricken ship. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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