Concordia hearings begin in Italy

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IOL pic oct15 costa concordia wreckage Associated Press Passengers aboard a ferry survey the partially sunken Costa Concordia wreck near Giglio Island in Italy.

Grosseto, Italy - An Italian court will hold a series of hearings starting on Monday to work out the details of the tragic night of the Costa Concordia disaster, with captain Francesco Schettino expected to attend.

The giant luxury cruise ship - more than twice as big as the Titanic - had 4 229 people on board when it struck an offshore reef near the Italian island of Giglio on the evening of January 13, tearing a massive gash in its hull.

The vessel quickly took on water, veered sharply and keeled over just a few dozen metres from the shore, sparking a panicky night-time evacuation which was hampered because lifeboats on one side of the ship could not be lowered.

Passengers and crew from dozens of countries were on board the Mediterranean cruise, including particularly large contingents of Italian, French and German cruise-goers, as well as staff from India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Dozens of survivors are suing ship owner Costa Crociere and its US parent company Carnival Corporation for hundreds of millions of dollars.

No date has yet been set for the trial which will be held presumably next year in Grosseto, a Tuscan city that is the closest major centre to Giglio.

The court hearings, which could last several days, will hear the black box recordings from the ship and focus in particular on the moments before the impact as the ship veered towards the island in a risky “salute” manoeuvre.

They will also look at the orders Schettino gave after the crash and the contacts he had with the coast guard and with his company in an attempt to determine why the order for everyone to abandon the ship came so late.

Schettino, who has been dubbed “Captain Coward” and “Italy's most hated man” in the press, is also accused of abandoning ship before its evacuation was complete. He has claimed he fell onto a lifeboat when the ship keeled over.

A total of 10 people are formally under investigation, including Schettino himself, the ship's Indonesian helmsman and four other crew members.

Roberto Ferrarini, head of Costa Crociere's crisis unit, is also being investigated along with two other managers from Europe's top cruise operator.

The captain has not been charged but is accused of multiple manslaughter.

In an interview in July, Schettino blamed his fellow crew members, saying he had been distracted but someone on the bridge should have spotted the reef.

He said he did not “feel like I committed a crime” but asked forgiveness.

Italian consumer group Codacons, which has launched a class action lawsuit, said its own research also showed key equipment had malfunctioned including the black box, sealed doors in the engine room and a sonar to measure depth.

The ghostly wreck of the 114 500-ton liner is still beached on its side just a few dozen metres from the shore of Giglio. Salvage crews are working to stabilise and refloat the hulk, which should be removed by spring 2013. - Sapa-AFP

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