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Costa and its parent Carnival have successfully distanced themselves from the disaster so far, but dogged pursuit by Italian prosecutors against the European line may lead to hard decisions by Carnival as to the future of the line.
Italian prosecutors broadened the inquiry into the Costa Concordia disaster on Thursday, announcing that they will investigate alleged failings by the cruise ship’s owners.
The widening of the investigation is likely to be beneficial to former passengers, and the relatives of the 32 people who died in the tragedy, who have launched class actions against Costa Cruises and its parent company in the United States, Carnival Corporation.
They are seeking tens of millions of pounds in compensation for the loss of loved ones and for the trauma they experienced on the night of Jan 13, 2012.
Prosecutors accused the Genoa-based firm of failing to order the ship’s captain to sound a general alarm when the 950ft-long cruise liner started taking on water after smashing into a rocky reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio in January last year.
The investigators, based in Grosseto in Tuscany, also said emergency procedures were not followed properly during the chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
In addition, they accused Costa Cruises of “playing down” the full extent of the damage done to the ship when it rammed into the rocky shoal, ripping a 140ft-long gash in its hull.
The company has insisted that it was misled as to the gravity of the situation by the ship’s Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, who initially reported that the vessel had simply undergone a power failure and made no mention of the collision.
If the charges are proved, the company risks “a massive fine” according to Codacons, a consumer group that has helped passengers who were involved in the accident.
“This is an important decision because it clears the way for those who are calling for compensation in class actions,” said Carlo Rienzi, the president of the consumer association. The widening of the investigation “increased the possibility” of passengers receiving large payouts, he said.
Costa Cruises now has 20 days to prepare its defence against the accusations.
Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the case, said he and his colleagues had concluded their year-long investigation into the capsizing of the ship.
That suggests that a formal indictment of Capt Schettino may be only days away.
He is expected to be sent to trial on charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a maritime disaster.