Defiant Schettino vows to clear his name

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has vowed that he will never accept his conviction for abandoning ship on the night of the 2012 cruise ship disaster.

Defiant Schettino vows to clear his name
Judges read out Francesco Schettino's sentence, under a sign reading: "The law is equal for everyone." Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Schettino, 54, was sentenced on Wednesday to 16 years in prison for multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and for leaving his boat before all of the passengers and crew had been evacuated.

"I will fight for ever to prove that I did not abandon the Costa Concordia," Schettino said in his first reaction to the verdict at the end of his 19-month trial.

Despite conviction, Schettino was still a free man on Thursday and will remain so pending at least one and likely two appeals which could take years. Italy's crammed jails and generous parole system mean it is unlikely he will ever serve anything like 16 years in jail for his role in a disaster that left 32 people dead.

Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The violation of the ancient code of the sea, which states a captain must be the last man off a sinking ship, only accounted for one year of the sentence handed down on Wednesday by a three-judge panel in the Tuscan town of Grosseto.

But the accusation that he behaved in a cowardly and unprofessional way in the chaotic aftermath of the Concordia smashing into underwater rocks off the island of Giglio appears to have been the one that hurt the Naples-born career seaman the most.

The charge was instrumental in turning Schettino into a reviled figure, with the Italian media's monicker for him, "Captain Coward", picked up around the world and his defence that he "fell" into a lifeboat widely ridiculed.

Schettino was not in court for the verdict, having broken down in tears during his final plea earlier in the day. Speaking to Italian reporters later, he said he was disappointed with the guilty verdict but would not comment on the more serious charges until he had read the judges' motivations.

Guilty of manslaughter

Schettino was given ten years for manslaughter and five for causing a disaster that led to the biggest salvage operation in maritime history. The judges also made a series of damages awards which will will have to be partly met by the ship's owner, Costa Crociere, which many see as having escaped lightly from the disaster.

They ruled that Costa must share civil responsibility for the disaster with the disgraced skipper. But their compensation awards, totalling just over €7 million, were limited. The company sidestepped potential criminal charges in 2013 by accepting partial responsibility and agreeing to pay a €1 million fine. 

Five of its employees received non-custodial sentences after concluding plea bargains early in the investigation. They included the ship's Indonesian helmsman, who could have averted the disaster but did not understand an order given by Schettino to change course just before the collision.

The company may yet face bigger payouts depending on the outcome of ongoing civil suits. Awards announced on Wednesday included €300,000 each for the region of Tuscany and the island of Giglio. This was a tiny fraction of what they were seeking for damage done to the sea bed and tourism.

Payout for dancer

Survivors of the disaster who had rejected Costa's initial compensation offer and become civil parties in the Schettino case are to be compensated an average of €30,000 each. Among those who will receive this payout is Domnica Cemortan, the blonde Moldovan dancer who Schettino was entertaining over dinner just before the ship hit the rocks.

Photo by Adevarul Chisinau/AFP

Costa Crociere's lawyers said after the verdict that the damages announced were in line with their expectations. On top of the prison term, Schettino was banned from public office from life and from working as a ship captain for five years.

His sentence was significantly lower than the 26 years prosecutors had called for – a fact which bodes well for the appeal, according to Schettino's defence team.

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