GROSSETO, Italy (AP) — The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia, now on trial over the deadly disaster, blamed his helmsman Monday for botching a last-minute corrective maneuver that he contends could have prevented the massive cruise ship's collision with a reef along the Italian coast.
Capt. Francesco Schettino is charged with manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship before the luxury cruise liner's 4,200 passengers and crew could be evacuated on Jan. 13, 2012. Thirty-two people died that night. Last week, the capsized ship was raised upright in a major salvage operation.
Critics have depicted Schettino as a negligent coward. But Schettino insists he is being made a scapegoat and that errors by other Costa Crociere SpA crew and mechanical problems exacerbated the tragedy that occurred near the Tuscan island of Giglio.
The Concordia crashed into a reef, took on water and capsized when Schettino steered it dangerously close to Giglio. It was an off-route maneuver that the captain is alleged to have taken in part because he wanted to impress his passengers with a close-up view of the island's twinkling lights.
Schettino told the court that as the Concordia came perilously close to Giglio's rocky coastline, he ordered his helmsman to steer the rudder to the left, but the crewman reacted too slowly and shifted to the right instead. The jagged reef sliced a 70-meter (230-foot) gash in the ship's hull.
"If it weren't for the helmsman's error, to not position the rudder to the left ... the swerve (toward the reef) and the collision wouldn't have happened," said Schettino, who risks 20 years in prison if convicted. Schettino also has said the reef wasn't on his charts, and that the company should shoulder some blame.
Investigators have said language problems between the Italian captain and the Indonesian-born helmsman may have played a role in the botched maneuver. A maritime expert, however, told the court that although the helmsman was slow to react and had indeed erred, in the end it didn't matter.