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Italy: Costa Concordia captain ordered to stand trial over shipwreck

last update: May 22, 18:12

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Grosseto, 22 May (AKI) - The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that hit rocks and sank off Tuscany last year with the loss of 32 lives will go on trial in July, an Italian judge ruled Wednesday.

Francesco Schettino faces criminal charges including multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the 4,229 passengers had been evacuated.

The trial will open on 9 July in Grosseto, the city nearest to the site of the wreck.

Schettino is accused of recklessly steering the ship too close to the Giglio island on 13 January last year, causing it to ram into a reef and tip onto its side just hours after it set sail for a Mediterranean cruise.

He denies any wrongdoing and has portrayed himself as a hero who managed to steer the stricken vessel closer to shore so it did not sink in deep water where hundreds might have drowned.

His lawyers say he is being made a scapegoat for what was simply an accident. He will face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, they say.

Schettino is said to have sailed close to Giglio's shore to 'salute' islanders.

A judge will on 8 July consider plea bargains entered by five other suspects in the investigation, including the head of the crisis unit of the ship owner, Costa Cruises, and four ship's officers.

The five suspects could face up to two years and 10 months in prison if found guilty.

Costa Cruises, part of the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, has accepted limited responsibility for the tragedy and last week a judge fined the company a million euros (1.3 million dollars) in a plea bargain to settle possible criminal charges.

The Costa Concordia still lies partially submerged while salvage crews work to refloat it.

In April the government claimed 37 million euros in damages to Italy's international image and environment.

Giglio has asked for 80 million euros in damages.

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