Concordia captain's lawyers seek new expert survey of ship hulk

GROSSETO, Italy Thu Jul 18, 2013 12:07pm EDT

1 of 2. People sunbathe in front of the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lying surrounded by cranes outside Giglio harbour July 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito

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GROSSETO, Italy (Reuters) - Lawyers for Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that capsized off Italy's coast killing 32 people, called on Thursday for a new expert survey of the ship's wreck to clarify exactly what caused the deaths.

Schettino faces charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship in the accident in January 2012 when the massive vessel tipped over on its side after striking rocks during a maneuver that brought it too close to shore.

He has admitted a share of responsibility for the accident as captain of the vessel, but says he should not bear sole blame and his lawyers have pointed the finger at the ship's owners Costa Cruises.

Domenico Pepe, a lawyer for Schettino, told the court that none of the 32 deaths were caused directly by the impact with the rocks and that the ship should be examined closely for defects before salvagers turn it upright.

"The people died more than two hours after the impact," Pepe said in court. "How can we know the truth about those deaths if we do not make checks on the wreck before it is turned upright?"

He said aspects that needed closer checks included the ship's watertight doors, emergency generators which he said failed to kick in, preventing lifts from functioning, and the lifeboats.

The Concordia accident triggered a chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew from the 290-metre-long ship (951-ft), which still rests on a rock shelf outside Giglio port.

Giglio local authorities are not against a new examination but want it to be done as soon as possible so that the wreck can finally be removed.

"Every day that passes with the Concordia in front of the island increases the damage to Giglio," Franco Maria Lecci, lawyer for the municipality told the court.

SALVAGE

Salvagers are hoping to turn the ship upright in September so that they can refloat it and tow it away from the coast by the spring of 2014.

But the tribunal in Grosseto is not planning to decide whether more checks are needed until the next hearing on September 23, when they will listen to experts who surveyed the ship hulk during preliminary investigations.

A lawyer representing consumer group Codacons agreed that a more thorough examination was needed.

"The initial investigation served only to understand the maneuver that brought the ship close to the island, but checks on what happened afterwards, and why there were 32 victims, are lacking," lawyer Giuliano Leuzzi said.

Prosecutors are opposed to additional checks, saying that the initial investigations were sufficient and another survey would be irrelevant.

Schettino's lawyers said on Wednesday that he would be requesting a plea deal again. He will offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of three years and five months, which would allow the complex trial to be resolved more quickly.

A previous offer to serve three years and four months was rejected in May. Five other officials - four ship's officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises - were allowed to present plea bargains for more lenient sentences.

Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, agreed to pay a 1 million euro ($1.29 million) fine to settle potential criminal charges in April. That means that for now Schettino is the only person facing trial.

(Writing by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Alison Williams)

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