Costa Concordia accident witnesses testify at captain’s trial


The cruise liner capsized after it struck rocks off Italy’s Giglio Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea in January 2012, killing 32 of the 4,200 people on board.


Schettino faces charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship with passengers still on board.


Several key witnesses are due to give evidence Tuesday, the second day of prosecution testimony against Schettino. Among them is Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan, who dined with Schettino and was with him on the bridge at the time of the accident.


Crew member Ciro Onorato, who dined with the captain and was on the bridge, told the court he was disappointed by Schettino’s handling of events during and after the accident.


Another witness, ship’s maitre d’ Antonello Tievoli, testified that Schettino had told him that he was going to do a “close passage to the island” on the day of the crash, and that the captain had invited him on to the bridge so he could see it.


Tievoli said that when Schettino arrived on the bridge, he told the crew there that he “was taking control.”


Tievoli said he had messaged his sister on Facebook to tell her the ship would be passing by moments before the accident. He was planning to point out where his own house was on Giglio to Schettino and other guests on the bridge.


Schettino asked him to call a retired Costa Cruises captain, Mario Palombo, who lived on Giglio to say they’d be passing close by, Tievoli said. Palombo was not on the island that night, but he and Schettino spoke by telephone.


Tievoli told the court that he had done previous “close passages to the island,” but none that close.


After the ship hit the rocks, alarms started blaring, Tievoli said. He ran down to the restaurant to check the situation, where he described a scene of chaos — terrified passengers, with plates, food and glasses on the floor as the ship listed.


The maitre d’ told the court he left panicked elderly passengers in safe places where they wouldn’t be hit by flying plates.


He heard a message from the loudspeakers that the ship was suffering a blackout but did not hear the coded message for crew members only to prepare for emergency, Tievoli said.


Once the general alarm was sounded, he and other crew members started preparing lifeboats so those on board could abandon ship, he said. He described lifting a man on crutches onto his back to carry him to safety.


Onorato told the court that he had tried to coordinate the waiters to help the several hundred passengers in the ship’s restaurant get out safely and calm them down.


Under cross-examination, Onorato was quizzed about Schettino’s movements around the cruise liner and about how they both came to leave the ship.


Onorato gave the same account as Schettino — that the ship was falling on top of them and that they had no choice but to “fall” into a lifeboat.


The defense also asked about Schettino’s demeanor when he saw him on shore and whether or not the captain was trying to get back to the ship.


The trial is expected to last through the fall with a string of witnesses, including passengers, crew members and islanders, who say they saw the captain on shore looking for dry socks before all the passengers had been safely evacuated.


Schettino argues that he is a hero who saved the lives of more than 4,000 people, not a villain whose negligence led to the deaths of 32. His defense is trying to prove, among other things, that the ship’s watertight doors did not function properly, and that is the reason the ship sank, leading to all 32 deaths during evacuation.


The captain also has told the court that the ship would not have crashed had his helmsman turned it in the direction that Schettino told him to 13 seconds before impact.


The helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, and four others were convicted in a plea deal in July for their role in the disaster. A Florence court is considering the validity of those plea bargain agreements.

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