Captain 'lightly thrown off' stricken ship by accident, says lawyer
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 said yesterday at the start of a long-anticipated trial.
Captain Francesco Schettino appeared in court in Grosseto, in Tuscany, the nearest city to the island of Giglio, where the ship capsized on the night of January 13, 2012, with the loss of 32 lives. The 52-year-old captain, who is accused of manslaughter, 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."
Captain 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 before all the 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated from the vessel. His refusal to go back on board provoked a reprimand from a coast guard officer who was trying to coordinate the evacuation, a recorded exchange that is likely to be played in court.
Domnica Cemortan, a Moldovan dancer on the ship, with whom the captain dined and then invited on to the bridge on the night of the disaster, was in court. She has denied having a sexual relationship with the married captain.
Ms Cemortan (26) is seeking €297,000 in damages from Capt Schettino and Costa Cruises, claiming that he and the company failed to defend her publicly and that the company failed to keep its promise to rehire her after the disaster.
Capt Schettino faces charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship, causing a shipwreck and causing personal injury to 150 passengers and crew.
The case was adjourned until July 17. (© Daily Telegraph, London)