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Rome - Italian captain Francesco Schettino on Thursday prepared to return to the Costa Concordia cruise ship, more than two years after leaving it in a hurry as it sank in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.
Schettino's visit was part of a court-ordered inspection in the ongoing trial against him for multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers had been evacuated.
Wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses, the disgraced captain fought off a crowd of journalists as he arrived for a meeting before the visit in a hotel in the tiny port on Giglio Island, off the shores of Tuscany.
Schettino arrived on Tuesday and has been hiding from the media glare in a white-painted house on a side street near the port on an island whose resident population numbers only a few hundred people.
“They want to show that I am weak, just like two years ago. It's not true. I want to show I'm a gentleman, not a coward,” Schettino, who was dubbed “Captain Coward” by the tabloids, was quoted by Italian media as saying.
Thursday's technical inspection will focus on a lift where several of the victims died and an emergency diesel generator which the defence says malfunctioned on the night of the disaster on January 13, 2012.
The court granted special dispensation for Schettino to attend after a request by his lawyers but specified he will be there “as a defendant, not a consultant” and would only be allowed to follow the proceedings.
With 4 229 people from 70 countries on board, the giant luxury liner crashed into some rocks just off Giglio as it was attempting a risky “salute” manoeuvre.
It keeled over near the coast but has since been righted in the biggest-ever salvage operation of its kind and is due to be towed away for scrapping in June. - AFP