GROSSETO, Italy (Reuters) - The former captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Wednesday for his role in the 2012 shipwreck, which killed 32 people off the Tuscan holiday island of Giglio.
Francesco Schettino was commanding the vessel, a floating hotel as long as three football pitches, when it hit rocks off the island, tearing a hole in its side.
A court in the town of Grosseto found him guilty of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his passengers in one of the highest-profile shipping disasters in recent years.
However the judges rejected a request that Schettino begin his sentence immediately. They ruled instead that would not go to prison until the appeals process is completed, which can take years.
The captain wept during his final testimony on Wednesday but did not return to the court to hear the verdict.
Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of 26 years for Schettino, who has admitted some responsibility but denied blame for the deaths that occurred during the evacuation. Some lawyers representing the victims said the sentence was inadequate.
Investigators severely criticised Schettino’s handling of the disaster, accusing him of bringing the 290 metre-long (950 feet) vessel too close to shore. The subsequent shipwreck set off a chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
Ann Decre, the head of a body representing French survivors, said the verdict could not cover the human cost.
“For me it’s six months for each death. And the family of the dead people, it’s not six months or 17 years for them, it’s forever,” Decre said outside the theatre that was turned into a makeshift courtroom.
Schettino was also accused of delaying evacuation and abandoning ship before all the 4,229 passengers and crew had been rescued. He said earlier in the trial that he had been thrown off the ship as it tilted.
The court sentenced Schettino to 10 years for multiple manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck and one year for abandoning his passengers. He also received a one month civil penalty for failure to report the accident correctly.
He was left alone on the stand to answer for the disaster after the ship’s owner, the Costa Cruises unit of Carnival Corp, paid a 1 million euro ($1.3 million at the time) fine and prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five officials.
“Lots of people who were there and played a role were excluded today,” Schettino’s lawyer Donato Laino said outside the theatre. “We think the facts of the case were different.”
He and Costa Cruises were jointly ordered to pay a total of 30,000 euros each in compensation to many of the ship’s passengers as well as millions of euros in compensation to Italian government ministries, the region of Tuscany and the island of Giglio for environmental damage.
Earlier on Wednesday Schettino had rejected prosecution accusations he had shown no sense of responsibility or compassion for the victims, saying “grief should not be put on show to make a point.”
The massive hulk of the Costa Concordia was left abandoned on its side for two-and-a-half years before it was towed away in the most expensive maritime wreck recovery in history. The last body was not recovered until 2014.
Schettino’s defence team argued he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the ship close to the island as it sank. They said the sentence that was sought by prosecutors went beyond even sentences sought for mafia killers.
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Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Susan Fenton and Steve Orlofsky