Costa Concordia captain gets 16 years in prison

The captain of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship was convicted and sentenced Wednesday to 16
Francesco Schettino arrives to attend his trial at the Grosseto court, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.
Francesco Schettino arrives to attend his trial at the Grosseto court, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.

GROSSETO, Italy — The captain of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship was convicted and sentenced Wednesday to 16 years and one month in prison for multiple counts of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship in the 2012 disaster that killed 32 people.

The sentence handed Francesco Schettino was significantly less than the 26 years and 3 months requested by prosecutors, who insisted that the Concordia’s captain was a “reckless idiot.”

The three-judge panel handed down 10 years for multiple counts of manslaughter, five years for causing the Jan. 13, 2012, shipwreck, one year for abandoning the ship while many of the luxury liner’s 4,200 passengers and crew were still onboard. He also was sentenced to one month under arrest for false communications to maritime authorities.

Schettino wasn’t present when Judge Giovanni Puliatti read out the verdict Wednesday night in a Grosseto theater, as is his right under Italian law. The former captain told the court earlier he was being “sacrificed” to safeguard the economic interests of his employer and broke down in sobs immediately before the panel began deliberating.

Schettino said he was “a few hours from a verdict that should have involved an entire organization and instead sees me as the only defendant.”

“My head was sacrificed to serve economic interests,” the 54-year-old Neapolitan seaman said, unable to finish his statement to the three-judge panel.

The court rejected prosecutors’ request that Schettino be immediately arrested. In Italy, defendants have two levels of appeals and sentences don’t begin being served until those appeals are exhausted.

Testimony at the trial put the spotlight on errors by other crew and equipment malfunctions after the Concordia smashed into a jagged reef when Schettino steered the ship close to the island of Giglio while passengers were having supper.

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

Schettino contended that no one died because of the collision, but because of problems beyond his control. Those factors included a helmsman who botched Schettino’s orders immediately before and after the collision, and crew members who weren’t fluent in English or in Italian, the working language of the ship.

An emergency generator failed after the crash, and water-tight compartment doors also didn’t work properly. Survivors also said they weren’t given emergency drills after they started what was supposed to be a weeklong Mediterranean cruise.

The three-judge panel took about eight hours to deliberate. Then it took more than a half-hour 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 Spa.

The total of all damages and court costs of the lawyers who brought the suits, was not immediate available. But most awards totaled tens of thousands of euros (dollars), far more than the 11,000 euros Costa paid to survivors who declined to press civil suits.

While insisting Schettino deserves conviction and a stiff prison sentence, the plaintiffs’ lawyers had lamented to the court that no one from the cruise company’s upper echelons was put on trial.

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

Costa Crociere’s lawyer at the trial rejected the assertion that the company bore any blame in the shipwreck.

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

In a last appeal to the court, defense lawyer Domenico Pepe contended the shipwreck was an “accident…and successive events led to the deaths of these poor people.”

He expressed the hope that “this trial will serve for something, at least to save lives” on future cruises because of lessons learned.

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