Costa Concordia Captain in Court as Judge Mulls Indictments

An Italian court began hearings on whether to indict the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that shipwrecked off Tuscany killing 32 people last year, an incident his lawyer described as a work accident.

Prosecutors want Francesco Schettino to stand trial on criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all the 4,200 passengers had been evacuated. The judge in Grosseto will decide on the indictment request by April 24.

The Costa Concordia ran aground near the island of Giglio hours after leaving a port close to Rome on Jan. 13, 2012. Schettino is accused of steering the ship too closely to the island as a way of saluting the inhabitants and a veteran captain of the Costa line. He has always denied any wrongdoing, saying his actions saved lives.

Schettino is a scapegoat, his lawyer Francesco Pepe said today during a break in the hearing that Schettino attended, news agency Ansa reported. “He is someone who had a work accident that can’t be criminalized,” Ansa cited Pepe as saying.

Costa Crociere, the unit of Carnival Corp. that owned and operated the capsized cruise liner, said Jan. 25 it was under probe for “possible violations” of the Italian administrative responsibility law. The Genoa, Italy-based company accepted this month a one million-euro ($1.31 million) fine to settle potential criminal charges concerning the accident, Ansa reported April 10.

Five other members of the crew including Schettino’s first officer Ciro Ambrosio and Roberto Ferrarini, head of Costa Crociere’s marine operations department, also face indictment, according to court documents. Ambrosio’s lawyer, Salvatore Catalano, ruled out any responsibility for his client speaking on SkyTG24 news channel. Costa Crociere has said it’s “absolutely certain” its staff acted correctly and blamed the captain for an untimely and partial communication with the company.

Alessandro Maria Lecci, a lawyer for the island of Giglio, today asked the court to consider at least 80 million euros in damages, speaking on SkyTG24.

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