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Friday, February 13, 2015

Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino sentenced 16 years

Thrust from obscurity to notoriety overnight,  the name of Francesco Schettino haunts the net. 

Costa Concordia is a Concordia-class cruise ship owned and operated by Costa Cruises. She was built at Fincantieri's Sestri Ponente yards in Italy. The name Concordia was intended to express the wish for continuing harmony, unity and peace between European nations.  Costa Concordia entered service in July 2006 and was the largest ship to be built in Italy, at 114,500 tons.  Costa Concordia was indeed a huge ship described in its website as a 'real floating temple of fun that will amaze you’.  On 13th Jan 2012, in calm seas and overcast weather, under command of Captain Francesco Schettino, Costa Concordia struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western coast of Italy about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Rome.  This tore a 50 m (160 ft) gash on the port side of her hull, which soon flooded parts of the engine room resulting in power loss to her propulsion and electrical systems.  The vessel was abandoned and people evacuated.  32 people reportedly died in the accident.   The sinking of the cruise ship was cause of International concern and Insurance industry feared that this could well be one of the biggest losses underwritten in Marine portfolio as the estimates ranged  from  $600m-$800m.   Besides the Hull loss and passenger claims, there would be liability claims as well.  There were some reports that the vessel had a high deductible. 

In accidents of such magnitude, there are Heroes and Villains.  The Coast Guard Captain  who furiously ordered the skipper of the Costa Concordia to return to his ship and oversee the rescue operations was hailed while the Captain was vilified and branded as a coward for fleeing in the face of adversity.   There were reports of   Italian investigators probing the mystery young Moldovan woman reportedly on the bridge of the cruise ship when it smashed into rocks off the coast of Giglio island.   She was stated to be  a  25-year-old blonde,  invited onto the bridge as the cruise liner sailed perilously close to Giglio, in what was apparently a ‘salute’ to an old friend of the captain’s and a favour to the ship’s head waiter, whose family were from the island.  Adding to the mystery, she reportedly  was not on the official list of passengers and crews.

Many months later, the Cruise liner began its final voyage away from the tiny Italian island where it capsized on January 13, 2012 salvaged by experts.  Now comes the news that the Captain of the ill-fated ship has been sentenced to 16 years in jail on manslaughter charges.  Francesco Schettino, dubbed 'Captain Coward' after he fled the ship before the 4,200 passengers were safely ashore, was handed the sentence this evening in Grosseto, Tuscany. The 54-year-old was given ten years for manslaughter, five for causing a shipwreck, one for abandoning ship, and a further month for giving false information to port authorities. His lawyers had launched a last-minute appeal yesterday attempting to blame the rest of the crew for the accident, but their attempts failed.

Judges were told that Schettino fled the ship and was discovered by shiver passengers waiting on shore 'without even getting his feet wet'. He tried to argue he fell into a lifeboat by accident.  The verdict and sentencing brought an end to a trial that has been running since July 2013.  Earlier the court had heard that Schettino was a 'reckless idiot' who had been showing off to a waiter on board the ship, and a friend on Giglio island, when he steered the ship close to the shore on the night of January 13.  Judges were also told that after the ship hit rocks, causing a tear in its hull which caused it to tip over on one side, the evacuation was delayed chaotic. Some of the ship's lifeboats were not deployed, while few instructions were given by the crew, judges heard.

The former captain's lawyers had argued that he delayed the evacuation because of the wind conditions, and did not use some of the lifeboats as they had not taken part in an inspection several months previous. A panel of three judges found Schettino guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to 16 years and one month in jail.  Schettino was not in court for the verdict although earlier in the day he had made an impassioned appeal. His lawyers said he was at his apartment with a fever.  Each of the 110 civil plaintiffs, crammed into a theatre where the trial is being held to accommodate them, will receive 30,000 Euros (£23,000) each, while 300,000 Euros (£230,000) will go to the island of Giglio and the region of Tuscany.  The company was fined 1 million euros in 2013 by a judge in Tuscany.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 26 years in prison for Schettino, who admitted some responsibility as captain of the ship but denied blame for deaths that occurred during the evacuation.  But despite the guilty verdict today, Schettino remains a free man and still has the right to two legal appeals which can take years to process, meaning he may never see the inside of a cell.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13th Feb 2015.

PS : inputs acknowledged from and host of other websites.

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