GROSSETO, Italy (Reuters) - The Italian captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, took the witness stand in a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, refusing to accept sole blame for sinking the cruise liner with the loss of 32 lives.
Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew was complete. He has admitted making mistakes but says he should not be the only person blamed.
“We are trying to find out exactly what happened,” Schettino’s lawyer Francesco Pepe told journalists in a break during the closed-door hearing in Grosseto.
“But, in any case, the most important thing is that everyone will hold their share of the responsibility in this incident,” he said.
Having obtained permission from the judge to address the court, Schettino spoke directly with expert witnesses, supporting his arguments “with determination,” said Marco De Luca, a lawyer for the vessel’s operator Costa Cruises, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp (CCL.N), the world’s largest cruise ship operator.
“He looked in fighting mood to me, just like his defence team, as they should be,” De Luca told journalists.
While accepting blame for causing the 114,500-tonne Concordia to crash into rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13, Schettino argues he managed to prevent a worse disaster by steering into shallow waters after the impact.
He has also Costa’s management knew its ships regularly came in close to the island to “salute” senior officials on land - the manoeuvre that led to the crash.
The company has rejected the accusations and also denied suggestions made during the hearing that generator equipment was faulty or that it had been responsible for delays in informing authorities on shore of the accident.
“It does not seem serious to me that commander Schettino tried to shift blame for some delicate decisions to subordinates,” De Luca said. “The captain is responsible for all decisions.” (Reporting By Silvia Ognibene, Antonio Denti, Hanna Rantala; Editing by Andrew Heavens)