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Cruise captain bids for leniency at Italy trial

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The captain of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship requested a sentencing deal at an emotional hearing in his trial on Wednesday, as a court clerk read out the names of the 32 people who died in the shipwreck.

Francesco Schettino's lawyers asked judges for a plea bargain deal in which their client would serve three years and five months in prison in exchange for admitting responsibility for the disaster.

Dubbed "Italy's most hated man" by the tabloids, Schettino is accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship in the disaster off the island of Giglio.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio brushed off the request and told reporters there was "no doubt" of Schettino's guilt and the only question now was to determine "how long a sentence he will get".

Survivors of the January 2012 tragedy said they were still haunted by the memories of that night and wanted the trial to finally shed light on what went wrong.

"No-one helped us," said Gianluca Gabrielli, a 33-year-old survivor from Rome who was on the cruise with his wife and two children, now five and six.

"The children do not want to fly or take a boat since it happened. They are traumatized," he said, outside the trial in Grosseto -- the city nearest to the crash site in an idyllic spot on the Tuscan coast.

Inside the improvised courtroom, held in a theatre because of the large numbers expected, a clerk read out a list of the charges against Schettino and of all the victims, detailing how each one had died.

Some were "sucked by a water vortex in the ship", others "fell into the sea as the boat rolled" and several of them were stranded after failing to find a place on lifeboats during the panicky evacuation.

The trial began last week but was immediately postponed after Schettino's defenders adhered to a national lawyers' strike, and it could last for months.

The 290-metre (951-foot) Costa Concordia crashed into rocks just off Giglio on the night of January 13, 2012 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.

Schettino was nicknamed "Captain Coward" for leaving while terrified people were trapped aboard and then sobbing in the arms of the ship's chaplain.

He has defended himself saying the ship was at a near 90 degree angle and he fell onto a lifeboat.

Schettino, dressed in a grey suit, avoided journalists entering and leaving but in a few comments to ANSA news agency he referred to the Concordia as "my ship".

Some lawyers have been arguing he should not be the sole defendant and Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, should share the blame.

Massimiliano Gabrielli, a lawyer for some survivors who are suing for compensation, accused Costa of "choosing to save the ship instead of saving people".

Five other people have been charged over the disaster, including the ship's Indonesian helmsman and the head of Costa Crociere's crisis unit.

The five have negotiated plea bargains with short prison sentences which are due to be ruled on at a separate hearing on Saturday.

The prosecution wants to call Domnica Cemortan, a young Moldovan woman who was in Schettino's company at the time of impact, as a witness.

"I'm disappointed there is only one person being held responsible. This is not a car accident, it's a ship accident," Cemortan told reporters.

"I want the truth to come out," said Cemortan, who has denied rumours that she and Schettino were having an affair and that she was staying in his cabin.

The ship still lies beached on its side, its rusting frame dwarfed by blue cranes and a floating hotel for divers and salvage workers.

The vessel is due to be righted in September but officials are concerned that its submerged side may be more damaged than previously thought.

Giglio's mayor Sergio Ortelli told AFP that nerves on the island were strained.

"The patience of the inhabitants has been stretched to the limit," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130717/cruise-captain-bids-leniency-at-italy-trial