Captain awaits appeal verdict over Concordia disaster

Florence (Italy) (AFP) –


Italian cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino was on Tuesday due to hear the outcome of his appeal against his lengthy jail sentence for the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster that left 32 people dead.

Schettino was sentenced in February 2015 to 16 years and one month in prison after a judge ruled that his recklessness was to blame for the fate of the giant ship, which struck underwater rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

He was convicted of multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew had been evacuated, earning him the nickname "Captain Coward" in the press.

The 55-year-old career seaman, who has yet to begin his sentence, says he has been made the solitary scapegoat for the disaster.

As his lawyers demand his acquittal, prosecutors are simultaneously appealing the sentence, saying it should be raised to 27 years.

Prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi said he recognised that other members of the ship's staff played a role in the disaster, but that they too had been found guilty and their errors "did not detract from Schettino's culpability".

The appeals court in Florence was deliberating and was due to give its verdict from 1600 GMT at the earliest.

Schettino was not present and was awaiting the verdict at his home near Naples.

During his first trial, which lasted 19 months, Schettino was accused of showing off when he steered the ship too close to the island and of being distracted because he was entertaining a nightclub dancer.

He was given 10 years for manslaughter, five for causing a disaster that led to the biggest salvage operation in maritime history, and one for abandoning ship before all the passengers and crew had been evacuated.

The ship had been carrying more than 4,200 people, including 3,200 tourists. The bodies of two of the victims have never been found.

His lawyers insist the accident and its deadly impact were primarily due to organisational failings for which the ship's owner, Costa Crociere, its Indonesian helmsman and the Italian coastguard should share the blame.

Costa Crociere avoided potential criminal charges by accepting partial responsibility and agreeing to pay a one million euro ($1.2 million) fine.

Survivors who rejected Costa's initial compensation offer and became civil parties in the Schettino case were awarded an average of 30,000 euros ($34,000) each.