Published July 17, 2013
GROSSETO, Italy (AFP) – The trial of cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino resumed on Wednesday, with the defendant dubbed "Italy's most hated man" facing 20 years in prison for a spectacular 2012 wreck in which 32 people lost their lives.
Schettino is accused of multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing environmental damage over the Costa Concordia disaster off the island of Giglio.
"We're here today to get justice," Francesco Di Ciollo, who represents two Italian families, said ahead of the start of the hearing in Grosseto -- the city nearest to the crash site.
"Survivors have to live with anxiety for the rest of their lives. There was darkness, panic, they were stranded inside without a way out," he said.
The trial began last week but was immediately postponed due to a lawyers' strike and could last for months.
"We're expecting it to last more than a year," said Massimiliano Gabrielli, a lawyer for some of the survivors.
The Costa Concordia crashed off Giglio on the night of January 13, 2012 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, killing 32 people.
Schettino was nicknamed "Captain Coward" for leaving while terrified people were trapped aboard the cruise lliner and then sobbing in the arms of the ship's chaplain.
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.
But some lawyers have been saying he should not be the sole defendant and Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, should share the blame.
Gabrielli, part of a group called "Justice for the Concordia", accused Costa of "choosing to save the ship instead of saving people" -- a reference to the delay of over an hour between the crash and the order to abandon ship.
Gabrielli also said Costa had scored "an own-goal" by accepting limited responsibility as Schettino's employer before the start of the trial and agreeing to pay a fine, pointing out this could open the way for further legal action against Costa.
Schettino's lawyers, Domenico and Francesco Pepe, have called for 100 witnesses and pledged to show that "no single person was responsible".
They plan to probe Costa Crociere management, materials used to build the ship, and the apparent malfunction of emergency doors and back-up generators.
"He did not abandon ship," said Donato Laino, another lawyer for Schettino.
"If he had stayed another 10 minutes he would have fallen in the water and not been able to manage the evacuation."
Laino said the defence would ask for a plea bargain with a sentence of three years and five months in prison.
Five other people have been charged over the disaster, including the ship's Indonesian helmsman and the head of Costa Crociere's crisis unit.
The five have negotiated plea bargains which are due to be ruled on at a separate hearing on July 20.
The prosecution says it wants 347 witnesses including Domnica Cemortan, a young Moldovan who was in Schettino's company at the time of impact.
The blonde, who has applied to be a plaintiff in the case, was in court in a white blouse and blue skirt.
Schettino wore a dark grey suit.
The trial is being held in an improvised courtroom in a theatre in Grosseto, with the panel of judges seated on the stage.
The Concordia crashed as many of the passengers were sitting down to dinner, and a delayed and chaotic evacuation saw some desperately throw themselves overboard into the dark sea as lifeboats ran out.
The 290-metre (951-foot) ship still lies beached on its side, its rusting frame dwarfed by blue cranes and a floating hotel for divers and salvage workers.
The vessel is due to be re-floated but technical difficulties have repeatedly hampered the salvage and there have been warnings that its submerged side may be more damaged than previously thought.
Giglio's mayor Sergio Ortelli told AFP that nerves on the island were strained.
"The patience of the inhabitants has been stretched to the limit," he said.
As he leaned on the harbour wall in the sun, fisherman Umberto Castelli said the island was overwhelmed by day-trippers who came just to gawk at the ship.
"I'm sick to death of the whole thing: sick of the boat, the journalists, the tragedy tourists," he said.