ROME The trial of the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which capsized off Italy's coast last year killing 32 people, resumes on Wednesday after it was delayed by a lawyers' strike earlier this month.
The trial will examine one of the most dramatic marine accidents in recent Italian history, when the huge liner struck a rock outside the port of Giglio in January 2012 and keeled over on to its side, setting off a chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
Captain Francesco Schettino, accused of abandoning ship before all crew and passengers had been rescued, faces charges including manslaughter and causing the loss of his ship, which still rests on its side in the Tuscan port.
His lawyers argue that he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the 290-metre (950-ft) vessel into shallow waters after the impact and that he was thrown overboard due to the angle of the leaning ship.
The trial began on July 9 but was immediately suspended because lawyers involved were taking part in a nationwide strike against measures to streamline civil trials.
Wednesday's hearing is expected to focus on legal arguments to do with the status of parties who wish to be represented as plaintiffs before the main arguments begin later in the week.
Parties seeking to be treated as plaintiffs include Domnica Cemortan, a Moldovan woman who has said she was with Schettino at the time of the accident and whom prosecutors plan to call as a witness.
State prosecutors rejected a plea bargain offer from Schettino in May but accepted those of five other officials, including four ship's officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises.
But Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer representing victims, told reporters last week he hoped investigations would show that the trial should be widened to include all those responsible.
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.
As the court prepared to begin the trial, salvagers tasked with refloating the ship and towing it away said on Tuesday they aimed to pull the vessel upright in September despite risks that it could break up.
Senior salvage master Nicholas Sloane said he expected some of the "minor structural elements" of the ship could collapse.
"There will be a lot of deformation," he said. "It's almost like a body with a spinal injury, you need to support the neck as she rolls over."
(Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)