ROME (AP) — An Italian judge has ordered the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship to stand trial for manslaughter in the vessel's shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany, which killed 32 people.
Judge Pietro Molino, at a closed-door hearing Wednesday in the town of Grosseto, agreed to prosecutors' request that Capt. Francesco Schettino of Italy be tried on charges of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning the vessel while many of its 4,200 passengers and crew were still aboard.
On the night of Jan. 13, 2012, the Concordia hit a jagged reef, which gashed its hull on one side, causing the ship to rapidly take on water just off the island of Giglio in the Mediterranean Sea.
Passengers said the ship's evacuation was delayed and chaotic. The cruise ship listed so badly to one side that some life boats couldn't be launched, and many people aboard had to jump into the sea and swim to the tiny island in the dark.
Schettino will be the only defendant in the trial, which begins July 9. The five other defendants successfully sought plea bargains, which are now being handled separately.
Schettino risks up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He contends he is innocent and is being made a scapegoat, insisting that the reef wasn't marked on the ship's navigational charts. He has also depicted himself as a hero in the tragedy, saying that he skillfully steered the stricken ship closer to Giglio's harbor, thus facilitating the rescue of the survivors.
"Prison doesn't frighten me," Schettino told reporters who asked him about the possibility of a long sentence if convicted. "One's conscience causes fear. My conscience is in place," he said after the trial indictment.
Asked how he would face trial, he said he would go "knowing that I will be able to explain calmly what happened."
His lawyer, Francesco Pepe, told reporters the judge rejected the defense's request at Wednesday's hearing to throw out the charge of abandoning the ship. The judge last week rejected Schettino's plea-bargain bid, which would have drastically reduced his sentence in case of a conviction.
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