Admiralty & Maritime Law

Verdict looms for Costa Concordia captain accused of manslaughter in shipwreck deaths of 32

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The captain of the Costa Concordia caused a 2012 shipwreck of the massive ocean liner by steering it too close to the small Italian island of Giglio, in the nautical equivalent of a fly-by. Then, compounding his “monstrously gross negligence,” Italian prosecutors contend, he didn’t immediately drop anchor and issue an order to abandon ship after the vessel struck rocks and began to sink.

In a final violation of the rules of the sea, they argue, Capt. Francesco Schettino abandoned ship himself while passengers were still aboard, reports BBC News. “The captain’s duty to abandon ship last isn’t just an obligation dictated by ancient maritime tradition, but also a legal obligation designed to minimize injuries,” the government said.

But Schettino’s lawyers have painted a very different picture in his 19-month manslaughter trial: The captain didn’t abandon ship but was thrown overboard as the vessel capsized, the defense says, and Schettino minimized deaths and injuries by steering the Costa Concordia as close to shore as possible rather than dropping anchor.

“Like a good sailor, he read the wind and went ahead,” his lawyer, Domenico Pepe, told the court, explaining that Schettino’s conduct was in accord with the adage that “the ship is the best lifeboat,” reports CBS News.

Schettino has also said that the rocks the ship struck weren’t shown on nautical charts and argued that others beside himself bore some of the blame for the accident. His contentions were supported by trial evidence of equipment malfunction and language issues, including a delay by the Indonesian helmsman in responding to a last-minute order by Schettino because he didn’t understand what the captain was saying, the CBS article says.

Schettino, 54, is now awaiting the verdict in a manslaughter trial over the deaths of 32 people. Some 4,200 passengers were aboard at the time of the Jan. 13, 2012 shipwreck.

In addition to the 26-year prison term prosecutors are seeking from the judges hearing the case, if Schettino is convicted, survivors and the families of deceased passengers want compensation from Costa Crociere SpA. The cruise operator was fined about $1.3 million by a judge in Tuscany in 2013 but says Schettino was responsible for the shipwreck.

Five employees of Costa Crociere, including the helmsman and a crisis coordinator who wasn’t aboard the Costa Concordia, took plea bargains earlier, avoiding prison.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “For vacationers encountering trouble on cruise ships, U.S. laws may provide little help” “Captain Held in Fatal Cruise Liner Stunt Argued with Coast Guard About Leaving Ship, Reports Say”

Los Angeles Times (sub. req.): “Costa Concordia captain not a coward, lawyers say; short sentence sought”

Sydney Morning Herald: ” ‘No pity’ for Concordia captain, prosecutors demand ‘rash idiot’ receive 26 years in jail”

Telegraph: “Capt Francesco Schettino ‘saved hundreds during Costa Concordia crash’ “

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