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Italy captain blames helmsman for Costa Concordia wreck

Francesco Schettino, who has been nicknamed 'Captain Coward' for apparently heading ashore while people were still trapped on the cruise liner, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

ROME // Francesco Schettino, captain of Italy’s doomed Costa Concordia cruise ship, on Monday blamed the Indonesian helmsman for causing the accident that killed 32 people.

“I wanted to slow the ship down. But the helmsman did not follow my orders correctly,” Mr Schettino told a court in Grosseto, where the trial against him for manslaughter and abandoning ship resumed after a summer recess.

“He steered in the wrong direction and we crashed,” he said, accusing helmsman Jacob Rusli Bin of being slow to react and steering the tiller to the right instead of the left.

The mistake, he claimed, caused a fatal delay in changing the ship’s course.

Mr Schettino, dubbed “Italy’s most hated man” by the media, is accused of sailing too fast and too close to the island in a risky manoeuvre to “salute” the residents, an Italian maritime tradition.

His defence team asked permission for experts to go aboard the wreckage to determine whether technical problems contributed to the disaster.

“It is now possible to carry out an inspection on board the Concordia. Parts of the ship are now above water and work can begin,” the lawyer Francesco Pepe said.

The ship was hoisted upright last week from its watery grave off Giglio island following the biggest-ever salvage operation of its kind, 20 months after it ran aground.

Reports following the crash suggested that some safety mechanisms on board the ship failed to function, aggravating the situation.

“We will only be able to ascertain the truth and understand what happened after a fresh inspection of apparatus such as the emergency generators, the watertight doors and the lifeboat launches,” Mr Pepe said.

Mr Schettino, who has been nicknamed “Captain Coward” for apparently heading ashore while terrified people were still trapped aboard, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The 290-metre Concordia crashed into rocks on the night of January 13, 2012, with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.

The 52-year-old captain insists ship owner Costa Crociere, Europe’s biggest cruise operator, should take its share of the blame for the deaths of the victims, some of whom were forced to jump into the freezing sea after a problem deploying lifeboats.

* Agence France-Presse