(Bloomberg) – Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has been convicted of manslaughter charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison, according to multiple media outlets reporting from Italy.
An Italian judge announced the sentence Wednesday night.
Schettino faced criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning the ship when passengers were still on board after it capsized near the Tuscan coast three years ago. The wreck killed 32 people. He’s denied any wrongdoing, saying his actions during the disaster saved lives and prevented a worse catastrophe.
Prosecutors had requested more than 26 years in jail and Schettino’s immediate arrest because they considered him a risk of fleeing the country. In Italy, most defendants remain free until all appeals are exhausted.
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“God have pity on Schettino, because we cannot have any,” prosecutor Stefano Pizza said in his closing arguments last month at the trial in the Tuscan city of Grosseto.
The Costa Concordia overturned and ran aground near the tiny island of Giglio hours after leaving a port close to Rome with 4,200 passengers and crew on Jan. 13, 2012 when Schettino steered the nearly 1,000-foot vessel too close to the rocks to perform a crowd-pleasing salute.
Schettino, 54, was dubbed “Captain Coward” in the Italian press when an audio recording emerged of a Coast Guard official repeatedly ordering him to return aboard and take command of the evacuation. His angry order to “Get back on board, damn it!” went viral on Facebook and Twitter Inc. and later was printed on T-shirts.
Schettino has steadfastly denied abandoning the ship, saying he was thrown off the vessel when it rolled on its side after the boat hit rocks off the coast. His lawyer Domenico Pepe argued during the trial that thousands of lives would have been jeopardized if the captain had ordered lowering the anchor when the ship was so far from the coast. “Like a good sailor, he read the wind and went ahead,” Pepe said.
Schettino was the only defendant in the trial, which took place in the city’s Teatro Moderno, a 1,000-seat theater converted into a temporary court.
Lawyers for survivors and the victims’ families said during the closing arguments that senior executives from Costa Crociere, a unit of Doral-based Carnival Corp., should pay for additional damages. In April 2013 the Genoa, Italy-based company agreed to pay a 1 million-euro fine for violations of Italy’s administrative responsibility law.
Three months later four Costa Concordia crew members and a company official received sentences of between 18 and 34 months in exchange for pleading guilty to charges including manslaughter and negligence. None of them is serving prison time. Costa said in a statement at the time the plea bargains didn’t put the innocence of its staff in doubt.
The Concordia’s wreck was refloated after a mammoth operation, removed and towed to Genoa in July 2014 to be broken up for scrap.
–With assistance from Lorenzo Totaro in Rome.