Europe

Costa Concordia's Captain Schettino returns to ship

  • 27 February 2014
  • From the section Europe

The Italian captain of the Costa Concordia ship, Francesco Schettino, has returned to the wreck for the first time as part of his manslaughter trial.

The ship hit a reef near the island of Giglio in January 2012 and capsized, with the loss of 32 lives.

Mr Schettino was taken to the wreck on board a small boat, two days after travelling back to Giglio.

He denies the charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, which could see him jailed for up to 20 years.

He arrived on the island off the Tuscan coast on Tuesday and is said to have wept when he saw the wreck from a ferry taking him to Giglio.

He attended a health-and-safety briefing at a hotel on Thursday morning to prepare him for the short boat trip out to the wreck, on which he was accompanied by a group of court-appointed experts.

Mr Schettino was taken out to the wreck on a small boat and was then seen standing on the ship itself.

He was being allowed on to the ship "as a defendant, not a consultant", said Judge Giovanni Puliatti.

The 290m-long vessel was righted in September 2013 in one of the largest, most complex salvage operations ever, but remains stranded after its ill-fated journey.

Memories of tragedy

The captain has been accused of leaving the luxury liner before the 4,229 people on board the ship were taken off.

"They want to show that I am weak, just like two years ago. It's not true. I want to show I'm a gentleman, not a coward," Italian media quoted him as saying.

He lambasted the media "frenzy" surrounding his return to vessel, describing those who accused him of abandoning the ship of not understanding "a bloody thing".

"There is a frenzy that is making me nervous," Mr Schettino told journalists and cameramen who surrounded him. "You have to respect civility."

Correspondents say that he grew increasingly angry on the dockside after the visit, frequently gesticulating as he nervously paced around.

He has already accepted some degree of responsibility, asking for forgiveness in a television interview last year as he talked of those who died.

Correspondents say that the technical inspection attended by the captain focussed on a lift where several of the victims died and on an emergency generator which the defence says malfunctioned
Captain Schettino could be seen (centre without a helmet) in a blue sweater standing on the wreck of the ship
Captain Schettino strongly criticised the "media frenzy" surrounding his return to the stricken vessel

But he denies abandoning the ship after it hit a reef near the island.

He maintains he managed to steer the stricken vessel closer to shore so it did not sink in deep water where hundreds might have drowned.

His lawyer Domenico Pepe said the captain's former employer, Costa Crociere, had shifted the blame towards him.

"It is very, very difficult because Schettino does not have the economic resources of Costa," he said. The firm is believed to be the biggest cruise operator in Europe,

"Schettino is confronting the whole world on his own."

An Italian court convicted five others of manslaughter in July 2013.

They had all successfully entered plea bargains, whereas Mr Schettino's request for a plea bargain was denied by the prosecution.

His return to the island will undoubtedly stir memories of the tragedy among locals, says the BBC's Alan Johnston.

"Schettino's here, he cried, so what?" one woman on the island told the AFP news agency. "We're tired of this story! We want him and the boat gone."

But Giuseppe Modesti, 67, told AFP: "There's no real anger here any more. Two years have passed and it's time to make peace with what happened."

The complex operation to salvage the Costa Concordia took 18 hours and followed months of stabilisation and preparation work by a team of 500 engineers and divers.

Ports in Italy, Britain, France, Turkey and China are now bidding for the lucrative contract to dismantle it.

The wreck sits in the harbour of Giglio
It is Mr Schettino's first visit back