Francesco Schettino, Captain of Costa Concordia, Found Guilty of Manslaughter

A little over three years ago, the Costa Concordia struck rocks off the Italian island of Giglio, initiating a massive shipwreck that killed 32 people and led to the largest salvation of its kind in maritime history. The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, was found guilty of causing this disaster by an Italian court on Wednesday. He was also found guilty of 32 counts of manslaughter and of abandoning ship. He was sentenced to 16 years: 10 years for the manslaughter charges, five years for causing the wreck, and one year for abandoning the sinking vessel.

That Schettino is in some sense responsible for the wreck has never really been in dispute. As the captain, he was at the helm of the ship when it crashed, and the wreck was only made possible by Schettino’s decision to take the vessel off course so that it could sail closer to Giglio’s shoreline. The trial therefore hinged on the precise extent to which Schettino was responsible for the shipwreck – was he a “reckless idiot” who sailed the ship too close to shore in an act of misguided bravado, as the prosecutors argued, or was the wreck the fault of multiple people who failed to maneuver the ship in accordance with the captain’s wishes, as the defense had it?

There were also a number of questions related to the degree of blame that could be assigned to Schettino for the passengers’ deaths. Even if he was solely responsible for the shipwreck, it nevertheless remains true that no one died on impact. Thus, the 32 deaths were most directly the result of a failed evacuation, and it is not clear how much responsibility a single person can bear, even if that person is the ship’s captain, for the evacuation of a ship carrying 4,252 people. However, Schettino’s actions certainly came across badly as the vessel was sinking. First of all, he abandoned ship before anywhere near all the passengers were off the Concordia. He should have been coordinating rescue operations from on board, attempting to discern exactly who remained on the vessel and was in need of rescue. The transcript recording the conversation between Schettino and the Italian Coast Guard after he had abandoned ship certainly paints the captain in a very poor light.

Recognizing the complexity of assigning blame, the court did not give Schettino the 26-year jail sentence that the prosecutors had sought. Also, Schettino was not the only one punished for his involvement in the wreck. Five other employees, including the helmsman, were sentenced to jail for periods ranging from a year and a half to nearly three years.

Through an appeal, Schettino might be able to shorten his jail sentence, and this legal process may drag on for a while. However, with the ship successfully recovered and taken to Genoa for scrapping, and with the main trial of the captain complete, the Costa Concordia story has for the most part come to a close.

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