Captain who commanded Costa Concordia in cruise disaster that killed 32 begins 16-year prison sentence

Francesco Schettino, the former cruise ship captain sentenced to 16 years for steering the Costa Concordia into rocks, was finally jailed Friday after his lengthy appeals process ran out.

Dubbed “Captain Coward” for fleeing the capsizing cruise ship in 2012 as 32 passengers and crew drowned, Schettino handed himself over to police on Friday evening after Italy’s supreme court upheld his 2015 conviction.

“I trust in the justice system; the verdict must be respected. I’m handing myself in right now,” he told his lawyer, Saverio Senese, by telephone after the verdict, adding he was standing outside a jail in Rome.

Schettino, 56, was convicted for shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning ship after he steered too close to rocks on the Italian island of Giglio on Jan. 13, 2012, while showing off to a Moldovan dancer with whom he was having an affair.

The collision tore a hole in the hull of the 114,000-ton ship, which limped on without power before going aground in shallow water close to the shore of Giglio.

Appearing bewildered and indecisive as the cruise ship slowly toppled onto its side, Schettino delayed lowering lifeboats then jumped into one himself, as 32 of the 4,229 passengers and crew on board died.

Some were sucked underwater by whirlpools caused by the keeling ship as they struggled to swim the short distance to shore, while others died trapped in the ship’s flooded elevator shaft.

Schettino was turned into both a laughingstock and a national embarrassment in Italy after a recording emerged of a coast guard official, Gregorio De Falco, urging him by radio to get back on board to look for passengers.

“You may have managed to save yourself from the sea, but it will really go badly. ... I will create a lot of trouble for you. Get on board, damn it!” De Falco shouted as Schettino meekly tried to justify being onshore.

Schettino later claimed he slipped and fell into the lifeboat. At his first trial, his then lawyer, Domenico Pepe, said, “No one but Spider-Man could have stayed on his feet on that deck, which was tilted at 40 degrees with a slippery floor.”

Schettino added, “I will fight forever to prove that I did not abandon the Costa Concordia,” a claim that prompted further jibes from the public as his name became synonymous with cowardice.

“May God have pity on him because we can’t,” one prosecutor said.

During Schettino’s two appeals, during which he was not held in custody, his lawyers tried to blame his Indonesian helmsman for the crash and claimed the breakdown of the ship’s emergency generator slowed evacuation.

The ship’s owner, Costa Crociere, paid a fine of 1 million euros for its role in the tragedy to avoid a trial, a payment that was criticized as being too low. Four crew members and a member of Costa Crociere’s onshore emergency unit received short sentences for manslaughter and negligence after plea bargaining.

On Friday, defense attorney Senese asked to show the court a video detailing alleged malfunctions in the ship’s watertight doors, which he said contributed to the ship’s filling rapidly with water after it was holed. His request was denied.

Proof of that malfunction was destroyed, he said, when the ship was raised, towed to Genoa in Italy and scrapped.

In their summing up before the supreme court, prosecutors accused Schettino of “unprecedented negligence” and bringing “dishonor” to his profession.

Schettino was absent during the supreme court hearings, following memorable appearances at his initial trial, where he broke down in tears while addressing judges.

After the final verdict Friday, Senese said, “I am extremely bitter that only Schettino has paid for this. As always happens in Italy, we need scapegoats.”

On Twitter, Italians angrily claimed that Schettino’s 16-year sentence would likely be reduced thanks to Italy’s generous cutting of jail time for good behavior.

But Michelina Suriano, a lawyer representing the victims, said she was grateful that the long appeals process had come to an end.

“Finally, Schettino begins to pay for his wrongdoing,” she said.

Kington is a special correspondent.

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