Schettino blames helmsman for Costa Concordia wreck
Court experts contradict ex-captain's claims23 September, 15:16
The trial of the former ship commander resumed on Monday after a pause for the court's summer holidays. Schettino could face 20 years in prison if he is found guilty of charges including dereliction of duty and multiple manslaughter for his role in the shipwreck that took 32 lives, injured hundreds, caused massive economic damages for Costa Cruises and the residents of the island of Giglio, a popular tourist destination where the liner crashed.
On Monday, in his first court testimony since the start of his trial, Schettino accused Jacob Rusli Bin, the Indonesian helmsman on duty at the time, of causing the wreck by failing properly to obey a command.
A court appraisal of the disaster found that the helmsman waited 13 seconds before carrying out Schettino's order to turn rudders to the left, a delay Schettino claimed was crucial.
"If it hadn't been for the error of the helmsman, to not position the rudders to the left, to avoid the error of collision...the blow would have been avoided," Schettino told judges in a theatre in the Tuscan city of Grosseto.
"At the moment I asked the helmsman to put the rudder to the left, the error was to not do so. In that moment, the ship was accelerating to the right," Schettino added, explaining a maneuver in which he sought to realign the ship in parallel to the rock formation. "But the helmsman did not carry out my orders correctly, put the rudders in the opposite direction and we hit," Schettino concluded.
Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, who headed the appraisal of the shipwreck for the court, disagreed.
"The helmsman delayed the maneuver 13 seconds, but the impact would have been the same," Dragone said.
The question of the helmsman's blame is one of three points of debate requested by the presiding judge in this portion of the trial. The other questions probe the blame of mechanical failure - of malfunctioning emergency generators, emergency pumps and watertight doors.
A witness for the prosecution also contradicted Schettino's defence claim to have guided the Concordia close to shore as it was taking on water to stop it sinking outright, thus saving the lives of more than 4,000 people after the Concordia hit the rock formation.
An expert for the court on Monday said that an examination of the black box, or VDR, revealed no evidence of "orders given to correct the rudders". Moreover, the witness said, "The rudders were ungovernable" after the ship's impact with the rocks. Dubbed "Captain Coward" by the media for allegedly abandoning ship without overseeing the evacuation, Schettino has claimed his image and actions have been distorted by investigators and called on judges for a new probe in July.
A defense lawyer for Schettino, Francesco Pepe, said on Monday that since the wreck had been successfully pulled upright last week, a new appraisal can take place. "Making an appraisal on board the Costa Concordia is now possible. Parts of the ship have surfaced and work can begin," said Pepe.
"We could ascertain the truth and understand what took place only after a series of new assessments on equipment such as, for example, emergency generators, the watertight doors, the operation of the lifeboat booms," Pepe said.
Costa Cruises lawyer Marco De Luca denied that the defence's request was necessary.
"The probe appraisal of the accident was exhaustive. We will see what the court decides on this new request," De Luca commented.
The lurching, semi-submerged wreck of the Concordia was finally hauled upright in a 19-hour, unprecedented operation last week, to prepare it to be floated and towed away next year.