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Costa Concordia's captain gets 16-plus years, is free on appeal

Three judges find captain of Costa Concordia guilty, sentence him to just over 16 years in prison

Francesco Schettino, the Italian captain who steered the cruise ship Costa Concordia onto rocks in Italy in 2012 with the loss of 32 lives, was sentenced Wednesday to just over 16 years in prison.

A panel of three judges at his trial in the Tuscan city of Grosseto handed Schettino, 54, five years for shipwreck, 10 years for manslaughter and one year for leaving the ship before passengers. He was given an additional month, which could involve house arrest rather than prison time, for misleading of rescue officials.

Schettino's employer, Costa Crociere, was ordered to pay damages to passengers who were civil plaintiffs in the case, as weel as to the Italian state, the island of Giglio and organizations involved in the rescue effort. The total amount was not immediately clear.

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For the Record

Feb. 11, 2 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Schettino was ordered to pay the damages. His employer, Costa Crociere, was ordered to make the payments.

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The judges decided that Schettino was not likely to flee before the two appeals he is entitled to under Italy’s legal system. They rejected a request from prosecutors to place him in custody, or even under house arrest, pending appeal.

Schettino was put on trial in 2013 after he mishandled a nighttime “sail past” off the Tuscan island of Giglio while captain of the Costa Concordia, a 114,000-ton vessel carrying 4,200 crew and passengers.

After the ship smashed into hidden rocks, tearing a hole in the hull, lower decks flooded and the ship began to list. The vessel drifted powerless as the wind pushed it toward the island, where it tipped onto its side in shallow water.

The 32 drownings occurred as passengers and crew struggled to lower lifeboats, swam to shore or tried to escape flooded areas of the ship.

In a trial that lasted 70 hearings, prosecutors called Schettino a “careless idiot” and claimed he steered too close to Giglio while trying to impress a Moldovan dancer with whom he was having an affair. She was on the ship’s bridge with the captain at the time.

It was alleged in court that Schettino dithered after the impact, failing to order the abandoning of the ship until the listing of the vessel made evacuation more dangerous.

Faced with accusations he fled the ship before all passengers evacuated, Schettino said he slipped and fell into a lifeboat.

The sentence, which was handed down after judges deliberated for seven hours, was lower than the 26 years requested by prosecutors. Schettino was not present in court to hear the sentence.

Earlier Wednesday, Schettino broke down in sobs as he tried to convince the judges to clear him of responsibility for grounding the cruise ship.

In an emotional statement, he told the court he had been made a scapegoat for the disaster and claimed he had been thrown into a “media meat grinder” in the last three years.

Schettino said he had “partly died” the night the cruise ship ran aground. He argued that he was standing trial alone because “my head was offered to save economic interests,” a likely reference to Costa Crociere, the owner of the ship, which paid a fine now valued at $1.1 million and was not called to trial.

On Wednesday, Schettino’s lawyers repeated their accusation that the breakdown of the emergency generator on board the ship slowed the evacuation of the ship as it listed in shallow water after running aground, contributing to the number of deaths.

The lawyers said the collision was caused by faulty maps and mistakes by the ship’s helmsman.

On Tuesday, prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi said Schettino had “fired a machine gun at everyone – everyone is to blame. Everyone except him.”

Criticized for not apologizing to survivors and victims’ families, Schettino said in his statement to the court that he had had “moments of pain which I share with survivors at my house.”

At that point he began to sob, said “enough” and threw his notes on the desk before him.

Kington is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:30 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details about the sentence imposed on the captain.

11:30 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with the judges' verdict.

The article was originally published at 7:20 a.m.

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