(Reuters) – An Italian court sentenced the former captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner to 16 years in prison on Wednesday for his role in the 2012 shipwreck that killed 32 people off the Tuscan holiday island of Giglio.
Francesco Schettino was commanding the vessel, a floating hotel as long as three football pitches, when it came too close to shore and hit rocks off the island, tearing a hole in its side.
Schettino was convicted of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his passengers in one of the highest-profile shipping disasters in recent years.
However, he will not actually go to jail before the end of Italy’s long appeals process, which can take years after the court said he would not be imprisoned or put under house arrest until the whole appeals process is complete.
Investigators severely criticised Schettino’s handling of the disaster, accusing him of bringing the 290 metre-long vessel too close to shore. The subsequent shipwreck set off a chaotic night evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
He was also accused of delaying evacuation and abandoning ship before all the 4,229 passengers and crew had been rescued.
Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of 26 years for Schettino, who has admitted some responsibility but denied blame for the deaths that occurred during the evacuation.
The court sentenced Schettino to 10 years for multiple manslaughter, 5 years for causing the shipwreck and one year for abandoning his passengers. In addition he received a one month civil penalty for failure to report the accident correctly.
He was left alone in the dock to answer for the disaster after the ship’s owners Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, paid a 1 million euro ($1.1 million) fine and prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five other officials.
He and Costa Cruises were jointly ordered to pay a total of 30,000 euros compensation to each of the ship’s passengers as well as millions of euros in compensation to Italian government ministries, the region of Tuscany and the island of Giglio for environmental damage.
Earlier on Wednesday Schettino had rejected prosecution accusations that he had shown no sense of responsibility or compassion for the victims, saying “grief should not be put on show to make a point.”
The massive hulk of the Costa Concordia was left abandoned on its side for two-and-a-half years before it was towed away in the most expensive maritime wreck recovery in history. The last body was not recovered until last year.
Schettino’s defence team argued he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the ship close to the island as it sank. They said the sentence that was sought by prosecutors went beyond even sentences sought for mafia killers.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Susan Fenton)
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