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Hearing shows captain to blame for Italy ship disaster-prosecutor

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 19 Oct 2012 19:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Silvia Ognibene

GROSSETO, Italy, Oct 19 (Reuters) - A pre-trial hearing in Italy this week on the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that cost 32 lives has put the responsibility for the disaster squarely on the shoulders of Captain Francesco Schettino, prosecutors said on Friday.

Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew was complete. He has admitted making mistakes but says he should not be the only person blamed.

"The pre-trial hearing has confirmed the responsibilities that we identified, above all with regards to Schettino," chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio said on the last day of the closed-door hearing in Grosseto, referring to the accusations levelled against the captain.

While accepting blame for causing the 114,500-tonne Concordia to crash into rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan. 13, Schettino argues he managed to prevent a worse disaster by steering into shallow water after the impact.

He also says management at the ship's owner Costa Cruises, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp, knew its ships regularly came in close to the island to "salute" senior officials on land - the manoeuvre that led to the crash.

The company has rejected the accusations and also denied suggestions made during the hearing that generator equipment was faulty or that it had been responsible for delays in informing authorities on shore of the accident.

Verusio said the hearing had also shown that the damaged ship's move into safer shallow waters was not due to any action on the captain's part but was down to "God's will".

Schettino's lawyer Bruno Leporatti said on Friday that the court hearing had gone "better than we had expected and from where we started off".

For example, he said, it was significant that the role of an Indonesian helmsman was being investigated.

The defence team says the helmsman misunderstood orders given by Schettino to avoid the rocks off Giglio island. They said earlier this week that an expert report showed the captain's orders may not have been carried out correctly and, had they been, the accident may have been avoided.

Schettino, who appeared more tense on Friday than earlier in the week, said he was not scared that he might go to prison.

"I am only scared that the truth will not come out," he told reporters.

Costa Cruises said in a statement that it had been recognised during the hearing as a company that "implements exhaustive procedures that comply with national and international provisions".

Following the pre-trial hearing, a judge will now decide if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. Prosecutors said on Friday they hoped to wrap up their investigations by the end of this year.

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