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>>>ANSA/ Schettino to return to Concordia wreck

Prosecutors open new tampering probe into Costa associates

25 February, 19:36
>>>ANSA/ Schettino to return to Concordia wreck (By Laura Clarke) (ANSA) - Rome, February 25 - Disgraced former captain Francesco Schettino, who was in command of the Costa Concordia when it crashed into rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio and capsized in January 2012, will be allowed to visit the wreck, a panel of judges decided on Tuesday.

Dubbed "captain coward" by the media for allegedly abandoning ship without overseeing the evacuation, Schettino had asked to be allowed to take part in a court-ordered inspection of the emergency generator, scheduled for Thursday. It will be the first time the former captain has visited the wreckage since Italy's worst postwar maritime disaster, in which 32 people died. Schettino is currently on trial in Grosseto in Tuscany on charges of multiple manslaughter and dereliction of duty.

Thursday's inspection will be the second of two new examinations of the stricken cruise liner made by experts representing the prosecution, defence and plaintiffs in the associated civil action following the successful outcome of a parbuckling operation last September. These were ordered after magistrates ruled that collection of new evidence was warranted because significant areas of the ship had been made accessible by the operation last year that turned the lurching, semi-submerged wreck upright.

Following a first inspection on January 23, lawyers acting for Schettino claimed the bridge command centre had been tampered with. "People have been working here," said lawyer Domenico Pepe.

"The scene is no longer as it was, there's been a complete modification of the state of things", he added.

His complaints led prosecutors to open a separate probe into possible tampering of the bridge.

And on Tuesday they announced that the Concordia's legal guardian, Franco Porcellacchia, who oversaw the parbuckling operation, and a Costa consultant, Camillo Casella, had been placed under investigation in connection with an unauthorised visit made to the wreckage on January 22.

The pair could now face charges of breaking court seals, altering the scene and legal fraud in what investigators described as a "serious incident". "The investigation will come to nothing," responded Costa lawyer Marco De Luca.

He argued that the visit had been aimed at securing the stricken ship for experts ahead of the court-ordered inspection the following day. Prosecutors were also allegedly examining the position of a third person believed to have accompanied Porcellacchia and Casella on board.

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