A view of the stricken Costa Concordia as crews attempt to raise the sunken ship.
A view of the stricken Costa Concordia as crews attempt to raise the sunken ship. And Cover Photo Gregorio Borgia

Captain didn't go down with Concordia, may now go to jail

THREE years and one month after he crashed the Costa Concordia on to rocks off the Tuscan coast with the loss of 32 lives, former captain Francesco Schettino will learn this week if he is to spend most of his remaining years in prison.

Prosecutors in the regional capital Grosseto are demanding that Mr Schettino be sentenced to more than 26 years after the vessel he was captaining, with more than 4,000 passengers and crew aboard, partially capsized on the night of 13 January 2012, close to the island of Giglio.

Mr Schettino, 54, is charged with multiple manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.

He is also accused of abandoning ship ahead of his passengers.

The ex-commander, who became a national hate figure, created more headlines when he sought to defend himself from the latter charge by claiming he had "fallen into a lifeboat and couldn't get out".

The prosecution says Mr Schettino should face incarceration immediately if convicted due to the gravity of the crime and the risk he might flee the country.

In Italy most defendants remain free pending appeals.

"Francesco Schettino has lied to everyone, to the press, to the court, to the maritime authorities," prosecutor Maria Navarro said in justifying her call for a sentence of 26 years and three months.

"He has never accepted responsibility."

With summing up continuing on Monday, court sources say a verdict is unlikely before Tuesday evening. Most observers, noting the severe attitude taken by the three-person judging panel, have predicted a guilty verdict on one or more of the charges.

Mr Schettino was in command of the 290m vessel, when in a deviation from its standard route, it passed very close to the shore of Giglio to perform a crowd-pleasing inchino or salute.

During this manoeuvre a collision with rocks tore a 50m hole in the ship's side.

Senior coast guard officials have said the almost-hour-long delay in calling for the ship to be abandoned was to blame for most, if not all, of the fatalities.

Lawyers for Mr Schettino, who denies the charges, have defended his delayed evacuation order by claiming in closing arguments that the ship was still the safest place for passengers and that he gave the order once it became clear that the Concordia was going to sink.

Last April, there was controversy when Costa Cruises, the owner of the Concordia, made a deal with an Italian court that limited its criminal liability with a fine of just €1m (AUD$1.45 million).

Giuliano Leuzzi, a lawyer for the national consumer group Codacons, which is leading a class action against the cruise operator, said it was "unacceptable and unbelievable" that the court in Grosseto was not taking into account "serious malfunctions of the ship" that had been identified by two expert reports the court itself had commissioned.