Costa Concordia captain blames helmsman for crash

  • 23 September 2013
  • From the section Europe
The Costa Concordia has been pulled upright in a major salvage operation off the coast of Italy.
Image caption The Costa Concordia has been pulled upright in a major salvage operation off the coast of Italy

The captain of the Costa Concordia has blamed his Indonesian helmsman for the accident which caused the ship to sink off the coast of Italy last year.

Francesco Schettino told a court the helmsman failed to obey orders to slow down and steered the ship onto rocks.

Thirty-two people died when the cruise ship capsized in January 2012.

Mr Schettino is charged with manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship, but says he is being made a scapegoat for others' errors.

Last week the 290m-long vessel was raised upright in a major salvage operation off the coast of Giglio island.

Media captionThis time-lapse footage shows the operation to right the Costa Concordia

The captain said there would have been no crash if the helmsman, who has already been convicted in a separate manslaughter trial, had heeded an order to steer away from rocks.

"If it weren't for the helmsman's error, to not position the tiller to the left... the swerve (toward the reef) and the collision wouldn't have happened," Mr Schettino said.

Mr Schettino claimed that if the helmsman had quickly executed the correct manoeuvre, the Concordia would have steered away from the jagged reef that sliced a 70m gash in the ship's hull.

Investigators have said previously language problems between the captain and the helmsman might have played a role in crash.

But one maritime expert told the trial, which is expected to last several weeks, that the helmsman's mistake and slow reaction were not crucial factors.

"The helmsman was 13 seconds late in executing the manoeuvre, but the crash would have happened anyway,'' Italian naval Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone said.

Mr Schettino is the sole defendant in the trial, which has resumed after a summer recess. If convicted he faces up to 20 years in prison.

At the time of the crash, the ship had deviated from its pre-established course because Mr Schettino wanted to impress passengers with a close-up view of the island.

Mr Schettino's defence team wants experts to enter the ship to determine why safety equipment - including water pumps, an emergency generator and water-tight doors - failed to function.

"The power generator, as are the other devices, are fundamental to understanding what happened that night," Schettino's lawyer, Francesco Pepe, said outside court. "We want to understand why they didn't work."

The defence team wants the responsibility for the tragedy to be placed not just on Mr Schettino but on other employees of Costa Crociere, the Concordia's owners.

The helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, is one of five Costa Crociere employees who were granted plea bargains in return for mild sentences in a separate proceeding. He was given a sentence of one year and eight months.

"It is unfair that we have only one defendant," said lawyer Michelina Suriano.

Engineers last week succeeded in righting the Concordia in an operation unprecedented in scale.

It is hoped that the bodies of two of the victims missing since the disaster will now be found.

Over the next few months the vessel will be assessed and repaired before being towed away and later destroyed.

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