Survivors of shipwreck voice anger
Grosseto - An investigation into the Costa Concordia cruise liner tragedy which claimed 32 lives held a key court hearing on Saturday with hundreds of lawyers and angry survivors.
Captain Francesco Schettino and eight others, including three executives from ship owner Costa Crociere, are under investigation for the January 13 disaster although no-one has yet been charged.
To accommodate the many participants, the hearing was held in a theatre in the Tuscan town of Grosseto near Giglio island where the luxury liner crashed into rocks with 4 229 people from dozens of countries on board.
Schettino, who is under house arrest at his home near Naples, was not attending because his lawyer said he was concerned for his safety.
"It's just as well that Schettino is not coming," said survivor Sergio Amarotto as he entered the closed-door hearing, which was barred to media.
"He told one lie after another to try and cover up what he had done."
Another survivor, Francesca Bertaglia, was also critical of the captain and said: "It's unthinkable not to have sounded the alarm immediately."
Leaks from the investigation published by Italian newspapers in recent days paint an unflattering portrait of Schettino, who is accused of causing the accident and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.
According to the transcript of an interrogation of the ship's second-in-command, Ciro Ambrosio, himself under investigation, Schettino was "untruthful" in his communications with the coast guard that night.
"It seemed the captain did not want to admit the real situation," Ambrosio said.
"He was not even raising the alarm to the authorities and was giving them untruthful indications."
Ambrosio also told investigators that Schettino was not wearing his glasses when he took over command of the ship after dinner, just before the ship crashed, because he had forgotten them in his cabin.
Earlier leaks from the investigation included claims that Schettino had been involved in a 2010 incident while at the helm of a cruise ship and that there was a hard-partying atmosphere of drugs and alcohol on board.
The ship's owner, Costa Crociere, has however said that Schettino was never involved in any accidents in his six years as captain.
The company, Europe's biggest cruise operator, also stressed that it implemented strict rules against drugs and excessive drinking.
Saturday's hearing will determine official mandates for the analysis of data from on-board equipment, including the ship's "black box", to try to determine who knew what when and exactly what orders were given.
The trial itself may not start for another two years.
Francesco Compagna, a lawyer for a group of survivors, said: "We want to work out how captain Francesco Schettino was hired and whether all emergency procedures were followed, particularly in contacts with the coast guard."
The Italian government adopted a decree this week banning the practice within two nautical miles of natural parks and marine sanctuaries, such as Giglio which is part of the Tuscan archipelago protected area.
Survivors have launched legal actions in France, Germany and the United States, including a $528m lawsuit in the US city of Miami, home of Costa Crociere's parent company Carnival Corporation.
Costa Crociere came under further pressure last week when a fire broke out on another of its ships, knocking out the engines and the power supply.
The ship had to be towed to the Seychelles through pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean but there were no injuries or casualties.