November 14, 1960|
|Occupation||former Ship Captain|
|Employer||Costa Cruises (2002–2012)|
|Known for||Captain of Costa Concordia|
|Criminal charge||Multiple manslaughter|
|Penalty||16 years in prison|
Francesco Schettino (Italian pronunciation: [sketˈtiːno]; born November 14, 1960 in Meta into a seafaring family) is an Italian former sea captain who commanded the cruise ship Costa Concordia when it struck an underwater rock and capsized with the deaths of 32 passengers and crew off the Italian island of Giglio on January 13, 2012.
Schettino attended the nautical institute Nino Bixio in Piano di Sorrento, then worked for the ferry company Tirrenia. In 2002 he was hired by Costa Crociere (Costa Cruises), a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. Starting as an official in charge of security, he moved up to become second-in-command. In 2006 Schettino was promoted to captain and given command of the newly launched Costa Concordia. In 2010 as captain of the Costa Atlantica, he entered the port of Warnemünde, Germany, at too high a speed, allegedly causing damage to the AIDAblu, also a Carnival Corporation ship. In 2014 he taught on a panic management course at Rome university.
Costa Concordia disaster
Schettino was the captain in charge of the Costa Concordia when it hit an underwater rock off Giglio on January 13, 2012, capsized, and 32 people lost their lives. He accepted some degree of responsibility and asked for forgiveness when he talked about those who had died. In 2012, his lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, defended his action and indicated that his maneuver after the collision was "brilliant" and saved lives. In December 2014, his lawyer, Domenico Pepe, just prior to Schettino's testimony, declared that his client wanted to set the record straight and "defend his honor".
Schettino indicated prior to trial that the underwater rocks the ship hit were uncharted, the helmsman did not speak English or Italian, and that the ship’s generators malfunctioned, impeding the rescue effort. Regarding his dry and early departure of the vessel, Schettino had explained that he slipped off the ship when it turned over and fell into a lifeboat. A transcript of a recorded conversation between Schettino and the duty Coast Guard Captain Gregorio de Falco was broadcast across news bulletins in Europe and currently available (amongst other websites) on 'The Guardian' website. It details a very angry De Falco ordering Schettino to leave the life-boat he was in and return to the stricken Concordia. De Falco clearly does not believe Schettino's explanation of how he 'fell' into the lifeboat, or his excuse for not returning to the Costa Concordia because it was 'too dark' and the lifeboat had 'stopped moving'. There is no reliable record of Schettino having returned to the Concordia.
Treatment in media
Prior to the event from January 13, 2012, Schettino had apparently given only one interview to the media, to the Czech newspaper Dnes in 2010. After the event, Schettino received extensive media coverage, being often vilified. He was dubbed "Captain Coward" and "Captain Calamity". Others in the press noted that he was a daredevil and prone to insubordination. Schettino was even described as "Italy's most hated man" by the tabloid press. At the end of his trial at Grosseto, Schettino said that he spent three years "in a media meat grinder." However, there had also been speculation, that he was a handy fall guy for the cruise line that disassociated itself from him and must have been aware of the practice of a sail-by salute, even requesting it. Also, Costa had communication with Schettino during the interval between the collision with the rock and the evacuation order; this may have led to a delay in the rescue effort.
After the accident, Schettino was placed in temporary custody by the prosecutor of Grosseto and released for house arrest on January 17, 2012. On 5 July 2012, Schettino was released from house arrest but mandated to reside in Meta di Sorrento. Prior to the trial, Pier Luigi Foschi, at that time chairman of Costa Cruises, put blame on Schettino as being responsible for deviating from the course and getting close to Giglio. Costa Cruises terminated Schettino's employment in 2012. The company declined to pay for his legal defense although it first supported him; instead, after a plea bargain with the prosecution, it became a co-plaintiff in the trial against Schettino.
Schettino's trial was separated from a trial against five Costa employees, namely Roberto Ferrarini (the company's crisis director, who was found guilty of minimizing the extent of the disaster and delaying an adequate response), cabin service director Manrico Giampedroni, first officer Ciro Ambrosio, helmsman Jacob Rusli Bin, and third officer Silvia Coronica. All pled guilty in a plea bargaining scheme and received jail sentences ranging from 18 months to two years and 10 months. Reuters cited judicial sources as saying none of these individuals were likely to go to jail as sentences less than two years for non-violent offences are routinely suspended in Italy, and longer sentences may be appealed or replaced by community service. Criminal investigations into any role Costa Cruise may have had in the disaster were closed after the company agreed to pay a fine of €1 million. The company may still be liable for civil damages.
Court of Grosseto trial
On February 23, 2013, the office of the prosecution at Grosseto announced that it had initiated legal proceedings against Schettino. He was accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident, abandoning ship with passengers still on board, and lack of cooperation with rescue operations. On July 17, 2013 the trial started at Grosseto where the Teatro Moderno was transformed into a courtroom to handle lawyers of about 250 co-plaintiffs and about 400 scheduled witnesses. While the other parties involved could plea bargain, Schettino's request to strike a plea bargain was denied. By the time Schettino had his first appearance on December 2, 2014, he was left as the sole person to be accused of manslaughter. "Schettino is (now) the only defendant, but he is not the only one responsible," opined Daniele Bocciolini, lawyer for some survivors. "He's not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn't be launched nor for the (failing) emergency generators".
In his defence, Schettino explained that the sail-by salute was intended to pay homage to other mariners and, for business reasons, to present passengers a nice view. He denied that he did this to impress a Moldovan dancer whom he had brought to the bridge. He indicated that his actions saved the lives of many after the ship hit an uncharted rock. Schettino accused some of his crew of misunderstanding and botching his orders. In 2013 he had already indicated that his helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, failed to follow his orders and made an error in changing the course of the ship. Further, he blamed defective generators and flooding of compartments for aggravating the situation. His lawyer indicated that these malfunctions led to the fatalities, whereas Schettino did not kill anybody when the ship hit the rock.
At the end of the proceeding, the public prosecutor Magistrate Maria Navarro asked for a jail sentence of 26 years and three months. Confirming the charges, she parsed jail times as follows: 14 years for multiple manslaughter, nine years for causing a shipwreck, three years for abandoning the vessel and three months for failing to contact the authorities when the accident happened. Navarro accused Schettino of lying during the trial as well as in public interviews prior to trial. Prosecutor Stefano Pizza stated, "The captain’s duty to be the last person off the ship is not just an obligation dictated by ancient maritime rules, it is also a legal obligation intended to limit the damage to those on the ship." Schettino's lawyers rebutted the charges and indicated that the disaster was a collective failure for which he should not be made the scapegoat. On February 11, 2015, after a 19-month trial, Judge Giovanni Puliatti read the verdict sentencing Schettino to 16 years in prison and five years of interdiction from navigating. The 16-year verdict is composed of 10 years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and one year for abandoning his passengers.
Response to the verdict
Costa Crociere's lawyer called the verdict "balanced". Others criticised the verdict. Survivor groups saw it as too lenient. On the other hand, it was also argued that Schettino, while guilty, had been made a scapegoat. According to this view, the disaster was a complex failure, not only involving negligence on part of the captain, but inadequate safety procedures, poor evacuation procedures, communication failures, and technical defects (such as faulty water-tight doors). On May 31, 2016, an Italian appeals court upheld the 16-year prison sentence. Schettino further appealed to Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which upheld the original sentence on May 12, 2017. Schettino handed himself in to Rome's Rebibbia prison on hearing the verdict of the second appeal, to begin his sentence.
Before starting his prison sentence, Schettino lived in Meta, Campania, in the Province of Naples. He is married to Fabiola Russo, and has one daughter. Present with him on the bridge during the collision was Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan (26), who has admitted she had been having a love affair with Schettino.
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