Costa Concordia captain not a coward, lawyers say; short sentence sought

Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino during a break at his trial Feb. 9 in Grosseto, Italy.
(Alberto Pizzoli / AFP/Getty Images)

In their final arguments before sentencing, lawyers for the captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia sought to repudiate his reputation as a coward.

“No one but Spider-Man could have stayed on his feet on that deck, which was tilted at 40 degrees with a slippery floor,” lawyer Domenico Pepe said Monday as he implored a court to reject a long prison term for Francesco Schettino, who steered the Costa Concordia into rocks in 2012, leading to 32 deaths.

Prosecutors are seeking a 26-year prison term.

Pepe cast Schettino as a courageous captain who was let down by his crew, starting with his Indonesian helmsman, who misunderstood Schettino’s orders as the ship headed for the rocks.


Schettino is standing trial for shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning ship in the Tuscan town of Grosseto after he mishandled a nighttime “sail past” off the island of Giglio while at the helm of the Costa Concordia, which was carrying 4,200 crew members and passengers.

After the ship careened into hidden rocks, ripping a hole in the hull, lower decks flooded and the ship began to list, drifting powerless until the wind turned it toward the island’s shore, where it tipped onto its side in shallow water.

As terrified passengers and crew members swam to shore or tried to escape flooded areas of the ship, 32 drowned, some sucked to their death by whirlpools caused by the turning ship.

In a trial lasting 69 hearings, prosecutors have called Schettino a “careless idiot” and said he steered too close to Giglio while trying to impress a Moldovan dancer with whom he was having an affair and who had joined him on the bridge.


Accused of leaving the ship to its fate when the Costa Concordia settled in shallow water, Schettino has claimed he slipped and fell into a lifeboat.

After the collision, as the ship took on water through a 160-foot-long rent, emergency generators failed to work and watertight doors did not seal, Schettino’s lawyers said, while senior officials failed to keep Schettino informed of what was happening on board.

“In a crew of 1,000 people, is only one responsible?” Pepe asked on Monday.

The short, noncustodial sentences that senior crew members have plea-bargained were “laughable,” he said. Lawyers representing passengers have also argued Costa Crociere, the ship’s owner, which paid a 1-million-euro fine, got off lightly.


Prosecutors have alleged that the ship drifted randomly with no power or steering after the impact, but Schettino’s lawyers said the captain knew the ship would turn around and drift toward land, hence his decision not to abandon ship early on.

“As an experienced sailor, he read the wind and currents and brought the ship to the coast,” Pepe said.

Prosecutors have also argued the evacuation was made more hazardous as the ship tilted over in shallow water, making it difficult to lower lifeboats, but Pepe argued that if the passengers had abandoned the drifting ship farther out to sea, the huge vessel might have struck the lifeboats, leading to greater loss of life.

Pepe agreed Schettino shared responsibility for the disaster and said he had proposed a plea bargain for up to five years in prison, only for prosecutors to reply, “It is not up for discussion.”


The trial has been held in a theater in Grosseto to accommodate witnesses and lawyers, with Schettino and the three presiding judges sitting onstage, lending proceedings a theatrical air enhanced by Schettino’s occasional bouts of bravura and use of Naples dialect.

Summing up, prosecutors accused Schettino of lying about his behavior and trying to shift blame to his officials. “May God have pity on him because we can’t,” prosecutor Stefano Pizza said.

With final rebuttals expected to run throughout Tuesday, the judges may return their verdict late Tuesday or Wednesday. Prosecutors have asked that Schettino be given 14 years for manslaughter, nine for shipwreck and three for abandoning ship.

Kington is a special correspondent.


Kington is a special correspondent.