Costa Concordia

Italian Court affirms detention of cruise ship's captain

A judge in Florence continued on Tuesday the house arrest of Francesco Schettino, the captain of the luxury liner that ran aground off the Tuscan coast on Jan. 13, leaving 17 people dead and 15 still unaccounted for.

Amid a highly heated public debate in Italy about the shipwreck of the liner, the Costa Concordia, a Florence appeals court rejected both the prosecutors' request to imprison the captain and the request of Captain Schettino's lawyer to have him released.

"Naturally, the climate in Italy and abroad has an influence over the judges," said Bruno Leporatti, Mr. Schettino's lawyer, "but this decision means that our justice system still works based on its principles and not on the public opinion and the media that would like the captain to start serving his time before the sentence."

Once formally indicted, Mr. Schettino could face charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship, which in Italy carry a sentence of up to 30 years.

"I think the judge's decision is fair," Hans Reinhardt, the lawyer representing 19 German passengers who filed criminal charges against Captain Schettino last week, said in a telephone interview. "They left everything like it was and did not give in to public pressure."

Mr. Reinhardt filed criminal charges against Captain Schettino and other, as yet unnamed defendants, on suspicion of negligent bodily harm, abandonment, endangering shipping and failure to offer assistance to persons in danger. In the event the Italian courts do not find the captain guilty, he said, a German court could proceed against him.

On Jan. 27, Costa Cruises' proposed a settlement of $14,600 per passenger — plus the refund of all travel expenses. In all, the ship had 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members from 61 countries on board.

But that has not deterred a plethora of legal actions around the world.

Two American law firms, together with Italy's largest consumer group Codacons, filed a lawsuit in Miami state court against the ship's operator, Costa Cruises, and its parent company, Carnival Corporation, which is based in Miami and is the world's largest cruise ship company, on behalf of four American and two Italian passengers, seeking $460m in compensation and damages. The plaintiffs, the complaint reads, were "in terror of catastrophic injury, death, drowning, having been placed in a situation where common sense said the vessel was sinking but the orders from the crew were to return to their cabins."

Legal actions are being considered in France, too.

Last week, Paris court announced that police would question French survivors to "determine the circumstances of the wreck and the evacuation and rescue conditions, and evaluate their personal prejudice and the psychological impact caused by this accident."

In an e-mailed statement, Carnival Corporation said that they do not typically comment on litigation matters. Four days after the accident Costa Cruises suspended Captain Schettino and blamed "human error" for the accident.

(Published by NY Times - February 7, 2012)

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