Claim Italian captain saved lives refuted

2012-10-19 15:00
The former captain of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship Francesco Schettino at the Teatro Moderno theatre for the trial in Grosseto, Italy. (File, AP)

The former captain of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship Francesco Schettino at the Teatro Moderno theatre for the trial in Grosseto, Italy. (File, AP)

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Grosseto - Experts on Friday refuted claims by Italian Captain Francesco Schettino that he saved lives on the night of the Costa Concondia shipwreck, as pre-trial hearings into the disaster were set to wind up.

Schettino has said that following the crash on 13 January he "let down the ship's anchors to keep the ship steady and to prevent it from drifting right", which would have taken it out to sea and not back towards the shore.

He has claimed he acted "to give enough time to get the passengers off".

The ship eventually toppled over a few dozen metres from the shore.

Whether or not the man who was nicknamed "Captain Coward" after appearing to abandon ship before the evacuation was complete acted to reduce the number of possible casualties has been heatedly debated among lawyers and their experts.

"It is much more difficult to claim that the manoeuvre [to steer the ship towards land] was accidental than to admit that it was done on purpose," said lawyer Francesco Pepe, one of Schettino's defence team.

Bad judgement

But technical expert Alessandro Belardini, who dived next to the wreck in June, said "the anchors never caught and had no effect on the ship's direction. It only ended up where it did because of the momentum, wind and current".

Belardini, who compiled his report for the law firm representing the family of a Hungarian violinist who died in the disaster, confirmed the findings of technical experts appointed to analyse data recordings and audio recordings.

"It's been proved that the Concordia was left without power from 9:48 pm onwards," three minutes after the ship gashed its side on a rock off the Tuscan island of Giglio during a badly-judged nighttime "salute" to the inhabitants.

Friday's hearing was the latest in a series that began on Monday and will pave the way for a trial expected next year into the disaster, which happened with 4 229 people on board from dozens of countries, and left 32 dead.

A total of 10 people are being investigated including Schettino and six other crew members, as well as three managers from ship owner Costa Crociere, which is part of the world's biggest cruise operator, US-based Carnival.

On Thursday, Costa Crociere's lawyer Marco De Luca accused the captain of shifting the blame onto others who had been with him on the bridge that night.

'Fell' into lifeboat

"The navigation code, the procedural code, international organisations of every kind state the responsibility for every decision lies with the captain.

"Offloading responsibility for the most delicate decisions and everything that followed onto his subordinates does not seem very honourable," he said.

Accused of intentionally abandoning ship, Schettino insists he fell off onto a lifeboat when the Concordia rolled onto its side.

He was taken ashore but claims he called out to a passing motorboat and "begged, please come and pick me up" so he could be taken back on board.

In audio recordings of conversations between the coast guard and Schettino, he appeared reluctant to return to the ship, complaining that it was dark.

Costa Crociere fired Schettino in June for illegally abandoning ship.

Misunderstanding

According to Antonio Langher, the lawyer for Salvatore Ursino, one of the five officers under investigation, Schettino arrived too late on the bridge to safely oversee a "sail-by" manoeuvre which was particularly risky in the dark.

"The ship was sailing close to land, in the dark. He shouldn't have been risking a sail-by, but even if he did it was Schettino's duty to reinforce the bridge, increase look-outs, and put his best men in charge."

Schettino has blamed the ship's Indonesian helmsman, who is also under investigation, for failing to understand his orders leading to the crash.

"But Schettino knew he had got orders wrong before. They had even been joking minutes beforehand, 'watch out or we'll go onto the rocks' because he was misunderstanding orders. He should have pulled him off," Langher said.

Read more on:    italy  |  maritime  |  cruise liner disaster
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