Concordia captain defends actions at pre-trial

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has defended his actions at a pre-trial court hearing that recalled the terrifying night of a cruise ship tragedy that claimed 32 lives.

Schettino went through "step by step the orders he had given in the moments before and after the crash and why he had given them", a participant at the closed-door hearing in the city of Grosseto in central Italy told AFP on Thursday (local time).

The captain, who has been widely attacked for apparently abandoning the luxury liner before its evacuation was complete, said he had given orders to the helmsman "to turn the ship bit by bit" in the moments before it hit a reef, the participant said on condition of anonymity.

The hearing was the latest in a series that began on Monday and will pave the way for a trial expected next year into the January 13 disaster, which happened with 4229 people on board from dozens of countries.

Some survivors have attended the hearings and said they were still traumatised nine months after the crash near the Tuscan island of Giglio, which sparked a panicked night-time evacuation from the sinking cruise ship.

A total of 10 people are being investigated including Schettino and six other crew members, as well as three managers from ship owner Costa Crociere, which is part of the world's biggest cruise operator, US-based Carnival.

Nobody has been formally charged with any crimes so far as investigators have until January, a year after the shipwreck, to press charges.

The drama of the upcoming trial began to emerge this week, with a clear stand-off between Schettino and Costa Crociere over responsibilities.

One of the key questions of a courtroom clash will be to work out why the order to evacuate the ship was given such a long time after the crash - a delay that investigators see as a potentially fatal factor in the tragedy.

Most of the lawyers present at the hearings, held in a theatre to accommodate the many attendees, said they expected them to wrap up on Thursday.

The sessions have focused on a report by technical experts who have analysed data recordings, orders given by the captain and phone conversations.

A copy of the report obtained by AFP put much of the blame for the accident on Schettino, saying he had tried "an extremely risky manoeuvre".

The report found that Schettino ordered a change in the ship's course to carry out a "salute" to Giglio - a seafaring tradition in Italy - and arrived on the bridge when the liner was only two nautical miles from the island.


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