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Five cruise ship crash suspects ask for plea bargains


Five suspects in the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster asked for plea bargains at indictment hearings in Italy on Tuesday, which could leave only the captain Francesco Schettino facing trial.

The five include Roberto Ferrarini, the director of ship owner Costa Crociere's crisis unit, and Jacob Rusli Bin, the luxury liner's Indonesian helmsman, as well as three other crew members.

Schettino's lawyers also asked for a plea bargain but the request was immediately turned down by the prosecutor's office, leaving only five plea bargain requests before the pre-trial judge.

The requests came during indictment hearings in Grosseto, the city closest to the January 2012 tragedy in which 32 people died, and a judge is only expected to rule when they wrap up in July.

"This is double standards. Schettino at this point risks being the only person on trial," the captain's lawyer, Francesco Pepe, told reporters in Grosseto, Italian media reported.

Plaintiffs in the case, who are suing for compensation, protested against the plea bargains.

"It is as if the trial ends here and we have been excluded from it without a debate," said Cesare Bulgheroni, a lawyer in the group "Justice for the Concordia" which represents dozens of survivors.

Lawyer Massimiliano Gabrielli said: "These plea bargains are ridiculous, they are an escape route."

Schettino's lawyer had asked for the former captain to serve three years and four months but prosecutor Francesco Verusio said the sentencing request was "ridiculously low".

All six are accused of manslaughter and Schettino is also suspected of abandoning ship before all the passengers were evacuated.

"There is no way," the prosecutor said.

Asked outside the court whether he would be the only one to go on trial, Schettino told reporters: "It looks like it," Italian media reported.

A judge still has to decide whether or not the trial will go ahead and when it could begin.

Under the plea bargain requests filed on Tuesday, the highest sentence would be two years and 10 months for the company executive Ferrarini.

Manrico Giampedroni, the cabin service director, would face two years and six months in prison.

Schettino's deputy, Ciro Ambrosio, would get a year and 11 months, while the Indonesian helmsman would get a year and eight months and officer Silvia Coronica would get a year and six months.

Costa Crociere, the biggest cruise ship operator in Europe, has accepted limited responsibility as the employer of all the suspects and was ordered to pay a fine of 1.0 million euros ($1.3 million) in a controversial decision by a judge in April.

The Costa Concordia crashed into the Italian island of Giglio on the night of January 13, 2012 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, keeling over and sparking a panicky evacuation.