Costa Concordia Hearings to Draw Hundreds of Witnesses

Hundreds of witnesses may be called to testify in the Italian trial of the captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia’s cruise liner, as salvage crews rush to remove the wreckage by the end of summer.

The trial, which started July 9 and was immediately adjourned to today because of a lawyers’ strike, is taking place in the Tuscan town of Grosseto, at Teatro Moderno, a 1,000-seat theater converted into a temporary criminal court. About 250 plaintiffs will be involved in the trial, including the Italian government and the island of Giglio, where the ship, owned by Carnival Corp’s Costa Crociere SpA Italian unit, rammed into rocks on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people.

The Concordia’s Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, the only defendant in the trial, was indicted on May 22 on charges including manslaughter and abandoning the ship while many of the 4,200 passengers and crew were still on board. Schettino, who has always denied any wrongdoing, saying his actions saved lives, faces as many as 20 years in jail if convicted, according to prosecutor Francesco Verusio.

Schettino’s defense team requested today a plea bargain for a jail sentence of three years and five months. The request was rejected by prosecutors, daily la Repubblica reported on its website.

Removal Operations

After 18 months, the Costa Concordia still lies on its side outside Giglio harbor, partly submerged, as a removal plan has fallen behind schedule. About 500 workers and 30 vessels are deployed in the removal operations and are preparing the righting of the ship before it’s towed to a port before another winter.

The trial needs to ascertain the “real responsibilities” beside the captain’s, Schettino’s lawyer Francesco Pepe said by phone July 8. He said on SkyTG24 on July 9 that the prosecutor request for 20 years jail is “disproportionate” and reiterated the captain’s defense that he didn’t abandon the ship. He fell from the tilting cruise liner during the evacuation, Pepe said.

“Schettino is not the only one responsible,” Daniele Bocciolini, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said July 9 on SkyTG24. “I expect justice will be done.” Plaintiffs are allowed in Italian criminal trials as damaged parties.

Plea Bargains

Five other defendants including Schettino’s first officer Ciro Ambrosio and Roberto Ferrarini, head of Costa Crociere’s crisis unit at the time, have sought plea bargains for short prison sentences, and their hearing will be held on July 20. Genoa, Italy-based Costa Crociere agreed in April to pay a 1 million-euro ($1.31 million) fine for violations of the Italian administrative responsibility law.

Costa Crociere, which remains a plaintiff in the trial, settled claims with more than 80 percent of passengers as of May 14. The plea bargains don’t put the innocence of its staff in doubt, the company said in a statement that day.

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