Costa Concordia pre-trial starts: Will captain use 'I tripped' defense? (+video)
Capt. Francesco Schettino is expected to be charged with abandoning ship when the cruiseliner ran aground in January. He said at the time he tripped into the lifeboat.
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He claimed he did not abandon passengers in their hour of need but accidentally “tripped” into a lifeboat which took him to shore, from where he coordinated the evacuation operation, and that he managed to save lives by maneuvering the ship close to shore, allowing passengers and crew to reach dry land.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Shipwrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia
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A dramatic audio recording of the panic on the bridge of the ship emerged on Monday, provided by Codacons, a consumer association which is supporting some of the Italian passengers in their bid for compensation.
In the moments after the impact, Schettino and his second-in-command, Ciro Ambrosio, issued contradictory orders to the helmsman. The captain shouted “Hard to port” while Ambrosio yelled “Hard to starboard.”
Schettino frantically ordered the crew to close the water-tight compartments deep in the bowels of the ship. A ship’s officer told him the level of the water was rising fast. He asked, “So are we really going down? I don’t understand.”
He told the helmsman to swing the rudder hard to starboard, “otherwise we go on the rocks.”
Despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, an officer made an announcement to passengers, telling them that “everything is under control” and that the vessel is simply undergoing a “technical problem.”
The audio recording, which will be analyzed during the pre-trial hearing, concluded with an officer telling passengers and crew “Attention, attention, abandon the ship.”
Corporation to blame?
The hearing was closed to the press and public but survivors and lawyers were free to speak to the media outside.
Peter Ronai, an American lawyer who is representing 10 survivors, said Schettino was being made a “scapegoat” and that responsibility for the accident rested with the owners of the ship, Costa Cruises, and its American parent company, Carnival Corporation.
“We feel that the fault lies with the corporation,” he said outside Grosseto’s Teatro Moderno, a theater which is being used for the hearing because the town’s court house is too small. “Schettino may have caused the impact but the company had plenty of time to handle the situation and evacuate people in an orderly manner."
“Instead, they told everyone to relax, that it was just a power blackout. Only at the very last minute did they tell people to run for their lives. It was a complete zoo – men pushed aside women and children were shoved aside.”
John Eaves, an American lawyer who represents more than 150 passengers from 10 countries, said he hoped the investigation would lead to sweeping improvements to safety drills, training, and ship design in the cruise industry.
“The ship was top-heavy. It only sat half as deep in the water as the Titanic but it carried more than twice the number of passengers. The captain made a horrible mistake but we need to change safety standards in the whole industry.”
IN PICTURES: Cruise ship Costa Concordia