4 Min Read
* Schettino's first visit aboard since 2012 shipwreck
* Former captain accompanying investigators as defendant
* New probe into unauthorised visit by Costa officials
By Silvia Ognibene
GIGLIO, Italy, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, went back on board on Thursday for the first time since the huge cruise liner sank with the loss of 32 lives just over two years ago, accompanying experts investigating the capsize.
The twisted wreck of the 290-metre-long ship, now stabilised after a complex salvage operation last year, sits propped up on underwater platforms just outside the port of Giglio, the island off the Tuscan coast where it capsized on Jan. 13, 2012.
Schettino, who faces multiple charges including manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, went aboard the vessel with a expert team appointed by the court but was only present as a defendant and was taking no active part in the investigation.
However he reacted angrily to the scrum of reporters awaiting him onshore when he returned.
"You're really harassing me," he said as he was bombarded by questions. "I've given my technical contribution as captain, I've given precise details that will help the final investigation," he said but declined to answer questions.
It is the first time Schettino has been aboard since the 114,500-tonne Concordia, carrying 4,229 passengers and crew, struck a reef while performing a display manoeuvre in which it came close to shore to "salute" the port.
Residents of Giglio, a tiny island that lives off tourism, are impatient to see the wreck towed away and reaction to Schettino's visit was largely "indifferent", the mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli said.
"I don't why he wanted to come here, maybe to see things," said Ariento Italo, a resident. "I just don't know what he is going to do - he will see things that he already knows and anyway everything is all smashed up."
His lawyers say the investigation will be able to ascertain whether the ship's equipment was working correctly or whether malfunctions caused the incident or worsened conditions during the chaotic nighttime evacuation of the ship.
"We've been asking for these checks for two years," said Domenico Pepe, one of Schettino's defence team. "If the generator had worked properly nothing would have happened. Without the generator, the rudder, the lights, the doors, the pumps and the lifeboats didn't work."
Sources familiar with the investigation said the generator would be taken apart for further examination.
"The generator switch did not function correctly during the shipwreck and we still have to understand if these were pre-existing problems or whether they were caused by the accident," said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.
Stripped of his maritime licence, Schettino is the only person on trial after four crew members and an official of the ship operator Costa Cruises were sentenced to terms of up to 34 months in prison after pleading guilty last year.
He has admitted that he bears responsibility for the accident as the ship's captain. But he says that he is not the only person to blame and has pushed for the vessel to be examined for evidence of possible technical faults.
"The exact responsibilities will be established during the trial, there are precise rules which will be examined by the competent people," he said.
However the investigation has already been clouded by allegations that two officials of the ship's owners, Costa Cruises, boarded the wreck without authorisation. A separate probe has been opened into the two.