Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino was convicted by an Italian court three years after the cruise ship capsized near the Tuscan coast, killing 32 people.
Schettino, who can appeal the verdict, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for criminal charges including manslaughter. He also received a lifetime ban on holding public office and was barred from his profession for five years.
Schettino has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was made a scapegoat for the accident and his actions saved lives and prevented a worse catastrophe. All the responsibility ’’has been loaded on to me with no respect for the truth,’’ he told the court in a tearful final plea earlier Wednesday.
Prosecutors had requested a jail term of more than 26 years.
The Costa Concordia overturned and ran aground near the tiny island of Giglio hours after leaving a port close to Rome with 4,200 passengers and crew on Jan. 13, 2012 when Schettino steered the nearly 1,000-foot vessel too close to the rocks to perform a crowd-pleasing salute.
Schettino, 54, was dubbed “Captain Coward” in the Italian press when an audio recording emerged of a Coast Guard official repeatedly ordering him to return aboard and take command of the evacuation. His angry order to “Get back on board, damn it!” went viral on Facebook and Twitter Inc. and later was printed on T-shirts.
Schettino has steadfastly denied abandoning the ship, saying he was thrown off the vessel when it rolled on its side after the boat hit rocks off the coast. His lawyer Domenico Pepe argued during the trial that thousands of lives would have been jeopardized if the captain had ordered lowering the anchor when the ship was so far from the coast. “Like a good sailor, he read the wind and went ahead,” Pepe said.
The verdict was read out in the city’s Teatro Moderno, a 1,000-seat theater converted into a temporary court. Schettino, who wasn’t present as the judges read out the verdict, was ordered to pay millions of euros in damages to the victims and other plaintiffs.
Costa Crociere, the Italian unit of Carnival Corp, was also ordered to pay damages to civil plaintiffs. In April 2013 the Genoa, Italy-based company agreed to pay a 1 million-euro fine for violations of Italy’s administrative responsibility law.
Three months later, four Costa Concordia crew members and a company official received sentences of between 18 months and 34 months in exchange for pleading guilty to charges including manslaughter and negligence. None of them is serving prison time. Costa said in a statement at the time the plea bargains didn’t put the innocence of its staff in doubt.
The Concordia’s wreck was re-floated after a mammoth salvage operation removed and towed the vessel to Genoa in July 2014 to be broken up for scrap.
(With assistance from Lorenzo Totaro in Rome.)
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