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Concordia pre-trial hearing expected to focus on black box content

Concordia pre-trial hearing expected to focus on black box content
A major pre-trial hearing in the Costa Concordia case will get under way in Grosseto Monday, focussing particularly on the contents of the giant cruise ship’s black box, which is expected to prove critical in reconstructing the causes and effects of ihe grounding on the rocks off Giglio on the night of January 13.

Most if not all of the nine individuals under investigation in the case are expected to be present with their lawyers at the hearing at the Teatro Moderno, which is also expected to be attended by family members of some of the 32 passengers and crew who died in the disaster. The hearing, which will include considerable expert testimony, is likely to run for at least three days.

Among the attendees will be Francesco Schettino, master of the Concordia, who is charged with shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning his ship. Schettino, who denies the charges, maintains that without his evasive action in grounding the vessel off Giglio the death toll could have much higher. He is also suing Costa Crociere after the cruise company dismissed him in the wake of the disaster.

Also likely to be present at the closed-door hearing are Manfred Ursprunger, Costa’s evp fleet operations at the time of the grounding, who has since been removed from his post as part of an 'internal reorganisation' at the company and has yet to be reassigned, and Roberto Ferrarini, the company’s operations manager, whose conversations with Schettino after the vessel hit the rocks are under particular scrutiny.

As the investigation continues, both in the courtroom and outside, the impact of the disaster continues to reverberate through the cruise industry. Despite the fears once expressed by then-chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi, the Costa Crociere brand has survived, but it has been badly tarnished. The company’s upper echelons and internal organisation have also been dramatically reshaped since February, and further change is expected under new chief executive Michael Thamm.

For the wider cruise industry, the disaster has only exacerbated the impact of the economic crisis, delivering a sharp blow to bookings early in the year from which it has since recovered. At the same time, the industry responded to the incident with a far-reaching overview of operating safety that has already yielded substantial changes, some if not all of which are likely to be adopted into regulation at the International Maritime Organisation.

Meanwhile, the enormously complex job of floating and removing the cruise ship from its resting point off Giglio continues, with hundreds of workers and myriad small vessels and large cranes employed in the task. It is expected to be completed by spring, in time for the next tourist season. The trial may take a little longer.