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Italy remembers Concordia shipwreck two years on

Manslaughter trial continues surrounding captain

13 January, 19:31
Italy remembers Concordia shipwreck two years on (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Grosseto, January 13 - A laurel wreath was lowered in the water Monday at the site of the Costa Concordia, two years after the mammoth cruise ship rammed into a rock formation on Tuscany's Island of Giglio, killing 32 people on board and injuring hundreds more. The captain at the time, currently on trial for multiple manslaughter and dereliction of duty, marked the anniversary by saying the shipwreck had caused "deep grief" and "indelible pain for all of us". Francesco Schettino's request for a plea bargain was twice rejected by State prosecutors, and he is the only person standing criminal trial over the disaster, facing up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. State prosecutors last May accepted the pleas of five other officials, including four ship's officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises. Costa agreed to pay a one-million-euro fine to settle potential criminal charges in April. A group of 30 shipwreck survivors staged a sit-in at Schettino's trial hearing on Monday. A lawyer for the group demanded greater accountability for Costa Cruises and accused the company of having a greater responsibility than Schettino for the disaster. "The responsibility is not only of Captain Francesco Schettino, who is already (indicted), but also of Costa Cruises, which has a far greater responsibility," said a lawyer with the sit-in attendees, Massimiliano Gabrielli.

Gabrielli also complained that the group of survivors, which has dubbed its initiative "Justice for the Concordia", has not been accorded a special ferry for the shipwreck memorial service scheduled for 21:45 - the hour of the crash - as normal winter ferry service is suspended in the evenings.

The court observed a minute of silence in memory of the disaster victims at the survivors' request. Italian consumer group Codacons has also demanded further investigation into the company's role.

Last week, a panel of judges in Tuscany said experts will board the vessel on January 23, weather permitting, to investigate certain equipment that only became accessible after a major operation in September that turned the lurching, semi-submerged wreck upright.

The righting operation took almost 24 hours and since then efforts have been made to keep the ship upright and stable until it is towed away and dismantled.

The entire project to remove the stricken Concordia from the island of Giglio has already cost more than 600 million euros, according to Michael Thamm, the chief executive officer of Costa Cruises.

And its impact has been enormous, he told a news conference last week. "This incident is part of our DNA, and we will never forget it," said Thamm.

"Our mission is to make sure that never happens again, not only for Costa but throughout the cruise industry".

Schettino continues to argue that he was a hero, helping to rescue passengers after the ship crashed on a rock formation.

However, comments from the black box played in a Tuscan courtroom last month during his trial revealed that crewmembers feared running aground even before impact.

"It's too close, this is crazy!" said an anonymous voice from the ship's command center before it slammed into rocks after it took a new route around the island as ordered by Schettino.

The recordings were played as prosecutors heard testimony from First Officer Ciro Ambrosio, who plea-bargained a sentence of one year and 11 months for multiple manslaughter.

Italy's supreme Cassation Court will review on January 31 an appeal motion against the plea bargain made with him and four other staff members involved in the Costa Concordia crash.

Prosecutors in Florence late last year contested a judge's lighter jail sentences as part of the bargain given in July to the five, each accused of multiple manslaughter.

Prosecutors argue the suspects did not earn their plea bargain, "having made no particular contribution to the investigations" with their "generic testimony".