Prosecutors: Concordia captain could have saved all 32 lives lost

GROSSETO, Italy – The failure of Costa Concordia’s captain to promptly order an evacuation of the cruise ship was the sole reason 32 people died, prosecutors said in their final arguments in court Tuesday.

A verdict in the 19-month-old trial is expected this week for Francesco Schettino, accused of causing the Jan. 13, 2012 shipwreck near the Italian island of Giglio, manslaughter and abandoning ship before all 4,200 aboard were evacuated.

Prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi contended there would have been time for everyone to survive had Schettino quickly ordered evacuation after the Concordia smashed into a reef when he steered too close to the tiny island near Tuscany. Instead, it was “each man for himself,” Leopizzi said of the chaotic, delayed evacuation.

Schettino’s defence has argued equipment problems complicated evacuation, and that he wanted to steer the Concordia closer to port.

His lawyers seek acquittal for manslaughter and abandoning ship. Schettino has said the reef wasn’t on his nautical charts.

Co-prosecutor Stefano Pizza described the defendant’s conduct as “reprehensible.” He urged for convictions on all counts and reiterated the prosecutors’ request for a 26-year prison term.

Frenchwoman Anne Decre, who survived the disaster, was also in court Tuesday.

She recounted how her friend lost her husband and some survivors developed phobias or can no longer work. “But Mr. Schettino is fine,” Decre told reporters.

Prosecutor Pizza urged the court to teach Schettino to accept his responsibility. “All this time he has wanted to dump his responsibilities” on others, Pizza said.

Prosecutor Leopizzi noted it took a few hours before the Concordia rolled over completely on its side, after seawater rushed through the gashed hull. Eventually the dramatic listing made it impossible to lower some lifeboats. Some survivors, with no more space in lifeboats, swam 50 metres (165 feet) to shore; others drowned inside or outside the ship. Helicopters rescued some stranded aboard while Schettino was already ashore.

Lawyers for survivors had a last chance Tuesday to press the court to award hefty damages to be paid by the cruise company Costa Crociere Spa.

“Where was Costa Crociere in this trial?” plaintiff lawyer Fabio Targa asked the court. He represents an Italian couple who were celebrating their wedding anniversary with their two children aboard the Concordia. He referred to testimony that several passengers resorted to phoning relatives on land after the collision to get help. The cruise company’s land-based crisis unit in conversations with Italian rescue authorities played down the seriousness of the ship’s problems.

The crisis-co-ordinator and four Costa employees from the Concordia were allowed to plea bargain in exchange for lenient sentences. None of them served prison time.

Costa Crociere Spa lawyer Marco De Luca argued in court it was too soon to be able to quantify damages suffered by survivors as claimed by their lawyers. He said it was up to a civil court at some point to determine real damages. Whether the shipwreck caused lasting damage to the pristine sea around Giglio should be determined after the cruise company completes its promised cleanup of the area where the capsized Concordia came to rest, De Luca contended.

Just as De Luca was about to finish Tuesday night, he fell ill. Paramedics were called in and he was taken away in an ambulance. Judge Giovanni Puliatti adjourned the trial until Wednesday morning, with the defence set for its final arguments.


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