Costa Concordia Captain Faces Survivors, Victims' Families in Court

October 15, 2012

(4:55 p.m. EDT) -- The disgraced captain accused of crashing Costa Concordia in January faced survivors for the first time Monday in court.

Several days of pretrial hearings aim to answer the question of whether 51-year-old Francesco Schettino should stand trial for his role in the January 13 disaster, which left Concordia capsized and 32 people dead after an attempt to "salute" the Italian island of Giglio went terribly wrong. Schettino is accused of causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship before all passengers debarked and 32 counts of manslaughter. Eight other people, including crewmembers and Costa's crisis coordinator, also are under investigation.

According to NBC News, the high-profile case drew so much interest that a theater in the Tuscan city of Grosseto had to be transformed into a courtroom to accommodate those who had a legitimate claim to attend, a list that included survivors, families of the dead, the accused, and associated attorneys and officials. The media weren't allowed in, and reporters waited for tidbits from survivors and attorneys delivered during breaks in the proceedings.

"We want to look him in the eye to see how he will react to the accusations," German survivor Michael Liessen told the Associated Press.

John Arthur Eaves Jr., an attorney representing several American survivors, told reporters the case is about more than a captain's terrible mistakes. It's about changing industry standards on passenger safety.

Certainly, one of the goals of the hearing will be to determine how wide to cast the net of culpability. What responsibility does Costa Crocierre, and its parent company Carnival Corp., bear for the tragedy?

Costa has made a continued effort to focus the blame on Schetinno. The captain deviated from the official computerized route taken by more than 100 Costa cruises a year; he failed to alert the authorities and communicate the severity of the accident to Costa's crisis response team.

In a 270-page analysis released September 14, experts appointed by the Italian Court accused the line and the ship's crew of "blunders, delays and security breaches that contributed to the disaster." Crewmembers are said to have bungled directions and not understood orders. Some crew, the experts said, were not adequately trained or certified in security and emergency drills.

In the coming days, two admirals and two engineers will testify on their findings from the voyage data recorder (the so-called black box) and other onboard equipment.

In a statement, Costa Crociere said it "supports the judicial process that seeks to determine what happened the night of the Costa Concordia accident."

For his part, Schettino denies all accusations. Any trial is unlikely to begin prior to next year.

--by Dan Askin, Senior Editor