The captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia has been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison, reports BBC. Captain Francesco Schettino was at the helm when the ship hit rocks and sank in 2012, killing 32 people. He was accused of taking the liner too close to the shore and then abandoning ship with passengers and crew still on board.
Schettino denied the charges and said he was being made a scapegoat. His lawyers had argued that it was a collective failure of the ship’s crew and others should share the blame for the disaster. Schettino was not present when Judge Giovanni Puliatti read out the verdict at the court in the city of Grosseto. The 54-year-old is expected to appeal against the verdict.
Earlier, the captain had made an emotional final appeal to the judge on the last day of the 19-month trial. Schettino sobbed as he told the court he had spent the last three years “in a media meat grinder”. “All the responsibility has been loaded on to me with no respect for the truth or for the memory of the victims,” he said.
Prosecutors had sought a 26-year jail term but the court sentenced Schettino to 10 years for multiple manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck and one year for abandoning his passengers. Investigators had severely criticised his handling of the disaster, accusing him of bringing the 290m-long vessel too close to shore when it struck rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
The ship was ripped open when it hit the shore and more than 4,000 passengers and crew were forced into a chaotic evacuation. Schettino said he had taken the ship so close to land for “commercial reasons” in a bid to please his passengers and those ashore. He had also rejected rumours that he had wanted to impress his lover, Domnica Cemortan, who was with him at the helm.
Costa Crociere, the company that owned the ship, sidestepped potential criminal charges in 2013 by agreeing to pay a $1.3m (€1.1m; £860,000) fine. It is being sued by survivors, the Tuscany region and Giglio island for further damages. Five other employees, including the helmsman, were handed prison sentences ranging from 18 months to two years and 10 months in plea bargains concluded early in the investigation. Schettino’s request for a plea bargain was turned down.