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Hearing sharpens battle lines in Costa Concordia culpability

Hearing sharpens battle lines in Costa Concordia culpability
After the hearing, the spin. Much as after any US presidential debate, the pre-trial hearing into the Costa Concordia disaster that ended in the Tuscan city of Grosseto on Friday was followed by a rush of statements designed to decode the events of the preceding days for a rapt public and, not incidentally, press the case of the leading protagonists.

That the presentation of the views of the panel of experts who had studied the ship’s ‘black box,’ and their cross-examination by a large and various cast of lawyers, took place behind closed doors only intensified the interest outside the Teatro Moderno, where the hearing took place.

What does seem apparent, however, is that the experts’ testimony did little if anything to buttress the contention of Capt. Francesco Schettino’s lawyers that after Concordia hit the rocks off Giglio he had actively sought to beach the stricken vessel and had saved countless lives in the process.

After the hearing, Bruno Leporatti, Schettino’s lawyer, was still insisting that ‘we came out better off than when we went in,’ and that Schettino, who was not allowed to speak at the hearing, was eager for his day in court, according to Italian wire service Ansa. Meanwhile, Francesco Verusio, the Grosseto chief prosecutor, was reported to have described the expert evidence as ‘a tombstone’ as far as Schettino’s responsibility for the disaster is concerned.

As Ansa noted, Leporatti had sought to draw a number of other figures into the circle of blame for the disaster, including the Livorno coast guard, Costa Crociere and the Indonesian helmsman who is alleged to have misunderstood an order to turn, rendering the impact of the initial collision more severe.

The experts, however, are understood to have rejected his reasoning in each case, arguing in particular that it was Schettino’s error to have brought the ship so close into shore that it hit the rocks and that he had played no part in beaching the vessel, a fortuitous event that owed more to wind and currents than the efforts of the Concordia’s master.

Costa Crociere, meanwhile, swiftly issued its own statement on the hearing, alleging effectively that the testimony of the last week had found no evidence that the company had failed in its duty, rather that it had often exceeded what was required of it, and attributing substantially to Capt. Schettino the blame for what occurred on the night of January 13. Schettino had earlier declared in conversation with journalists that ‘the responsibility of Costa in this must come out.’

Specifically, Costa claimed that its crisis unit had not been able to provide sufficient support to the ship only because of the speed of events, and that decisions regarding safety of navigation and keeping shoreside authorities informed in an emergency were not its responsibility but those of the captain.

It also claimed the hearing had found the vessel had been designed and built in line with prevailing international safety regulations, that it was fully certified when it left Civitavecchia as well as correctly maintained and functioning, and that its safety procedures were adequate and lawful.

Costa added that Schettino had failed in his responsibility to inform the shoreside authorities of the ship’s change of route, and that the difficulties abandoning ship were solely the result of the captain’s delay in sounding the general alarm. The crew, on the other hand, had performed admirably in difficult circumstances, the company said.