Concordia captain jail term anger

Published: Thursday 12th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Survivors and relatives of those who perished in the Costa Concordia disaster have attacked the 16-year jail sentence given to the captain of the cruise liner.

A court sentenced Francesco Schettino to 10 years for the manslaughter of 32 people when the luxury liner capsized off the Italian coast in 2012; five years for causing the shipwreck when he steered too close to Giglio Island, smashing into a rocky reef; one year for abandoning the vessel when hundreds were still aboard; and one month for giving false information to maritime authorities about the gravity of the collision, which prosecutors said delayed the arrival of help

But the punishment, handed down by a three-judge panel in Grosseto, Italy, was 10 years short of the 26-year term prosecutors had sought and left some survivors and victims’ relatives wondering if justice was done.

“Thirty-two dead. That’s about six months for every person who died,” said Frenchwoman Anne Decre, who managed to board a lifeboat before the Concordia’s listing made it impossible to lower other boats. She was one of only a handful of survivors who came to court to hear the verdict.

Ms Decre is pressing for better safety standards for cruise ships and like other survivors, recalled how many passengers had not received emergency drill practice after starting the Mediterranean cruise.

Keven Rebello’s brother Russel was a ship waiter who stayed aboard to lower the last of the lifeboats. His body was found only after the Costa Concordia was towed away from Giglio Island after the ship was set upright in a spectacular engineering,

“What’s important is not to forget this affair. Instead, if Schettino ends up in prison, after a while everyone will forget about him, just like they will forget about the victims,” Mr Rebello told Italian news agency ANSA.

Refusing to comment on the sentence itself, he added: “What matters is that this tragedy serves to make the (cruise) companies and commanders do what’s needed so (the tragedy) doesn’t repeat itself.”

Judge Giovanni Puliatti took more than 30 minutes to read out all the names, one by one, of the survivors and dead, upon whose behalf civil suits were filed for damages from Costa Crociere.

The total of all damages and court costs of the lawyers who brought the suits was not immediately available, but most awards totalled tens of thousands of euros, far more than the 11,000 euros (£8,000) Costa paid to survivors who declined to take civil action.

Schettino, 54, chose not to come to court for the verdict, but Judge Puliatti rejected the prosecutor’s request for his immediate arrest, saying Schettino still had two levels of appeals to exhaust under Italian law before he must begin his sentence.

As they left court, Schettino’s lawyers said they had not yet spoken to him by phone.

Just before deliberations began, Schettino made a last-minute appeal to the court, claiming he was being “sacrificed” to safeguard the economic interests of his employer. He then broke down in sobs.

“My head was sacrificed to serve economic interests,” the Neapolitan told the court.

The reef gashed the hull, seawater rushed in, and the Concordia listed badly, finally ending up on its side outside Giglio’s port. Post-mortem tests determined that victims drowned aboard ship or in the sea after either falling or jumping off the ship during a chaotic, delayed evacuation.

Lawyers for many of the survivors and victims’ families have attached civil suits to the criminal trial to press the court to order Costa Crociere, the Italian cruise company, to pay hefty damages. Their lawyers lamented to the court that no one from the company’s upper echelons was put on trial.

Four Concordia crew members and Costa’s land-based crisis co-ordinator were allowed to plea bargain. None is serving prison time.

Costa Crociere’s lawyer at the trial, Marco De Luca, rejected the assertion that the company bore any blame in the shipwreck, and called the verdict “balanced”.

Cruise travel has been a growing part of tourism, one of Italy’s main industries. Costa Crociere has been a big customer of an Italian state-controlled shipbuilder.

Trial statements and evidence highlighted several mistakes and shortcomings that the defence – and plaintiffs’ lawyers – contended were beyond Schettino’s control. A helmsman botched Schettino’s orders immediately before and after the collision, and some crew members were not fluent in English or in Italian, the working language of the ship.

An emergency generator failed after the crash and water-tight compartment doors did not work properly.

Published: Thursday 12th February 2015 by The News Editor

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