Europe

Costa Concordia: Italy court decides who should stand trial

Costa Concordia cruise ship lies aground off Giglio island on 15 January 2012
Image caption The ship remains an eyesore off the coast of the island of Giglio and an operation to remove it is being prepared

An Italian court has opened a series of hearings to decide who should stand trial over the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster.

Captain Francesco Schettino - whom prosecutors accuse of manslaughter and abandoning his ship during the rescue - was at Monday's hearing.

Another four crew members and the head of the company crisis unit may also face charges.

The luxury liner hit rocks and capsized on 13 January 2012, killing 32.

A host of different parties are seeking compensation over the tragedy, including hundreds of survivors and the ship operator, Costa Crociere.

They also include local authorities at the site of the shipwreck close to the island of Giglio, who are seeking at least 80m euros (£68m; $105m) to make up for alleged lost revenue and the eyesore that has been on its shoreline for more than a year.

A major operation is planned to refloat the vessel and take it away to be broken up - an operation that has never before been attempted on this scale.

'Show off'

The judge at the court in Grosseto, Tuscany - close to the site of the accident - is expected to decide exactly who might stand trial, and what charges they will have to answer, in this series of pre-trial hearings.

Image caption A sombre-looking Capt Schettino leaves court on Monday

Reports described a sombre-looking Capt Schettino attending the hearing. He has been living on probation in his hometown of Meta, southern Italy, and had to be granted special permission from the judge to attend.

On that winter's night more than a year ago, Captain Schettino was trying to show off his vessel and his seamanship by sailing desperately close to the shore, reports the BBC's Rome correspondent Alan Johnston.

More than 4,000 passengers were on board.

But the captain struck rocks, and a major disaster began to unfold. Passengers described a chaotic and delayed rescue. By the time the evacuation was ordered, the ship was listing so far to one side that many lifeboats could not be used.

As well as manslaughter and abandoning the ship, Capt Schettino is accused of causing a shipwreck and misinforming the coast guard.

He denies the charges, along with his fellow accused.

Plea bargain

Some passengers have already accepted compensation of about 11,000 euros each, but remaining groups of survivors are demanding up to 1m euros each - something Costa lawyer Marco de Luca has reportedly dismissed as ridiculous.

The company itself has paid 1m euros in a controversial plea bargain with the court in which it accepted limited liability as the employer of the suspects and avoided further criminal proceedings.

It insists it is due damages after losing a 500m-euro ship in the accident.

But some lawyers accuse the company of having badly trained personnel and malfunctioning equipment on board and say it will still have to face civil suits from dozens of survivors.

"This company has disregarded safety for the sake of its passengers, to just increase its profits. The industry must change," John Artur Eaves, a US lawyer representing around 150 survivors, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.