The fate of the captain of the doomed Costa Concordia cruise liner hung in the balance Friday as his defence lawyers prepared to sum up and Italy’s highest court readied its ruling.
Francesco Schettino, dubbed “Captain Coward” by the press for abandoning the stricken ship during the 2012 nighttime disaster that killed 32 people, will be jailed if the court upholds his 16-year and one month sentence.
His lawyers were set to open the hearing at the Court of Cassation in Rome, after which the judges will retire and consider whether to confirm the guilty verdict or order the case to be reviewed by a fresh appeals court.
Schettino, 56, was convicted in 2015 of multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew had been evacuated.
He was not expected in court Friday. Lawyers said he would likely be at home in Meta di Sorrento near Naples, waiting for news.
Prosecutors have argued Schettino’s recklessness was to blame for the fate of the giant ship, which struck underwater rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio on the night of January 14, 2012, and toppled over.
The violation of the ancient code of the sea which states a captain must be the last man off a sinking ship only accounted for one year of the sentence handed down by a three-judge panel in the Tuscan town of Grosseto.
During the first 19-month trial, Schettino was accused of showing off when he steered the ship too close to the island while entertaining a female friend.
The ship had been carrying 4 229 people, including 3 200 tourists.
Schettino’s lawyers had insisted the accident and its deadly consequences were primarily due to organisational failings for which the ship’s owner, Costa Crociere, its Indonesian helmsman and the Italian coastguard should have shared the blame.
They also argued that it was not the collision, but rather the chaos that ensued due to the ship losing power that was the direct cause of the deaths. Schettino could not be blamed for the mechanical failures, they said.
Costa Crociere avoided potential criminal charges by accepting partial responsibility and agreeing to pay a $1.2-million fine.
Five of its employees received non-custodial sentences after concluding plea bargains early in the investigation.