Captain had ample time to save Concordia, claims expert
The captain of the Costa Concordia had "ample" time and space to avoid crashing the cruise ship into a rocky outcrop off the Italian coast, a marine expert has told a court.
The fact that the ship swung around and capsized just outside the main harbour of Giglio, allowing passengers and crew to reach dry land comparatively easily, was luck rather than Captain Francesco Schettino's skill, the pre-trial hearing in Grosseto, Tuscany, heard.
"There was ample space, a huge amount of water and time to bring the ship out of danger," said Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, an Italian admiral on a panel of experts studying how the disaster happened.
"The manoeuvre after the impact was completely fortuitous because the ship was by then out of control."
The ship was pushed towards the island's rocky shore by the wind and waves and under different conditions could have headed further out into deep water, making the evacuation of the 4,200 passengers and crew more dangerous.
His analysis contradicted Capt Schettino's insistence that he saved lives by steering the 1,000ft liner close to shore. The death toll from the disaster was 32 but could have been much higher, he said.
On its second day of sitting, the court also heard that an echo sounder device that measured the depth of water beneath the vessel had been "inexplicably" switched off before the Concordia struck the rocks.
Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the Concordia, told the hearing that the ship had been equipped with more radar systems than needed and that enough of them had been in operation to meet legal requirements.
But Codacons, a consumer rights group that has been closely involved in the case, said the device could have helped to prevent the disaster.
"All these aspects, had they been functional, may possibly have made up for the negative effects of Capt Schettino's actions and helped avoid the loss of human lives, even if the ship might have sunk nonetheless," said Giuliano Leuzzi, a lawyer for Codacons.
In the hours after the ship hit the rocks and before the order to abandon ship was given, Capt Schettino veered between outright panic and moments of apparent nonchalance, the court heard.
After telling the Italian coast guard that the ship was "taking on water", he allegedly said: "Now it's in God's hands." He continued: "We don't have any problems, we just have to put the passengers into the sea, if you could send us some boats please."
The court is due to decide whether to send Capt Schettino forward for trial on charges of manslaughter, abandoning his ship and causing a shipwreck. He denies all charges.
Meanwhile, Nick Sloane, the head of the operation to salvage the wreck, said yesterday that it was now more likely to be June rather than January when the liner would be refloated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)