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Europe

Costa Concordia captain enters plea bargain

© AFP

Video by Seema Gupta

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-26

Lawyers representing Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized and left 32 people dead last year, said Wednesday that their client was ready to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.

The trial of Francesco Schettino, dubbed "Italy's most hated man" for his role in the Costa Concordia disaster last year, resumed in Italy Wednesday after being delayed by a lawyers’ strike earlier this month.

As the trial got underway, lawyer’s for the defendant said that their client was ready to plead guilty in exchange for a prison sentence of three years and five months.

However, Schettino has already seen an earlier plea bargain bid thrown out by the judge in charge of preliminary investigations into the case, suggesting this latest attempt at a deal may be unlikely to succeed.

He is facing charges of manslaughter and causing the loss of his ship for his role in what is one of the worst maritime disasters in Italy’s recent history, when the Costa Concordia struck a rock off Giglio Island in January 2012 and keeled on to its side.

The accident resulted in a chaotic night-time evacuation of the cruise liner’s more than 4,000 passengers and crew. Despite rescuers’ efforts, 32 people died in the disaster, relatives of whom are expected to attend the trial.

Schettino has been the subject of the vast majority of the finger-pointing that followed the accident and has been dubbed "Italy's most hated man" by tabloids for his alleged part in causing the disaster.

The 52-year-old has been depicted as a blackguard who was showing off for a blonde female guest when he performed a risky manoeuvre to "salute" the island that ended in tragedy.

He has also been given the nickname "Captain Coward" for abandoning ship while terrified people were trapped aboard, then sobbing in the arms of the ship's chaplain.

Others to blame?

However, Schettino’s lawyers argue that he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the 290-metre (950-ft) vessel into shallow waters after the impact and that he was thrown overboard due to the angle of the leaning ship.

They will also attempt to show over the course of the trial that "no single person was responsible" for the disaster, with the ship’s owner Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, among those they believe should share the blame.

Schettino’s lawyers plan to raise questions about the materials used to build the ship and a malfunction of emergency doors and back-up generators.

Four other people charged, including the ship's Indonesian helmsman, have entered plea bargains to be ruled on in a separate hearing on July 20.

Costa earlier admitted limited responsibility as Schettino's employer and was ordered to pay one million euros ($1.3 million) in a controversial ruling that has excluded it from criminal proceedings.

The trial began on July 9 but was immediately suspended because lawyers involved were taking part in a nationwide strike against measures to streamline civil trials.

Salvage operation still underway

Meanwhile, the rusting wreckage of the 290-metre Costa Concordia still lies on its side outside the port where it ran aground some 18-months ago.

Hundreds of salvage operators are working around the clock to right the ship and have it towed away to be scrapped before winter arrives.

However, the scale of the hugely technical and largely unprecedented operation has led to fears among locals that it may be some time before the wreck of the ship is removed in the otherwise picturesque harbour.

"We are angry and really disappointed that this is all still going on," Felicita Speranza, a 65-year-old who sells souvenirs in the port, told the AFP news agency.

"We had been told it would be finished by last September, then May, then this September. We'll have to see if this time it's true."

The disaster has, nevertheless, had a positive impact on the island’s tourist industry, with holidaymakers flocking to the region to snap pictures of the infamous ship’s rusting hulk.

"We opened a bed and breakfast in May, a few months after the accident. For us, it's been good business," said Giada, 24, owner of a small local hotel.

"We've been booked out ever since."

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-17

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