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Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, was not the only one to blame for a disaster off Italy last year in which 32 people died, his lawyers said at his trial on Wednesday.
After a delay caused by a lawyers’ strike earlier this month, the trial resumed on Wednesday in the town of Grosseto on Italy’s west coast.
Schettino faces charges including manslaughter and causing the loss of his ship over the accident in January 2012 when the huge liner struck a rock off the picturesque island of Giglio and keeled onto its side, setting off a chaotic night evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
“He has never shied away from his responsibilities. But it is only fair that he is treated justly,” his lawyer Francesco Pepe told reporters outside the courthouse.
“He was the captain, it is right that for certain things he should be the point of reference. But it is not right to blame him for responsibilities that he did not have,” he added.
Schettino, 52, is accused of abandoning ship before all crew and passengers had been rescued.
His lawyers argue that he prevented an even worse disaster by steering the 290 meter (950 foot) vessel into shallow waters after the impact and that he was thrown overboard due to the angle of the leaning ship.
“We expect that right from the first we will finally get to the bottom of things and finally understand what really happened that night,” Pepe said.
The trial began on July 9 but was immediately suspended because lawyers involved were taking part in a nationwide strike against measures to streamline civil trials.
Wednesday’s hearing is expected to focus on requests by various people and institutions who wish to be represented as plaintiffs, before the main arguments begin later in the week.
They include Domnica Cemortan, a young Moldovan woman who was at the time a friend of Schettino and was on the liner’s bridge when the collision occurred. Prosecutors plan to call her as a witness.
“I hope the truth will come out and the guilty are found responsible for this accident,” Cemortan told reporters outside the court.
State prosecutors rejected a plea bargain from Schettino in May but accepted those of five other officials – four ship’s officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel’s owners, Costa Cruises.
But Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer representing victims, said last week he hoped investigations would show that the trial should be widened to include all those responsible.
Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, agreed to pay a 1 million euro ($1.29 million) fine to settle potential criminal charges in April. That means that for now Schettino is the only person facing trial.
As the court proceedings got under way, salvagers said they hoped to pull the vessel upright in September despite risks that it could break up.
Senior salvage master Nicholas Sloane said he expected some of the “minor structural elements” of the ship could collapse.
“There will be a lot of deformation,” he said. “It’s almost like a body with a spinal injury, you need to support the neck as she rolls over.”
Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene; writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Barry Moody and Alistair Lyon. Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.