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An Italian court opened a hearing Monday to determine whether or not to hand down indictments against the captain and some crew of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.
BRUSSELS, Belgium — An Italian court opened a hearing Monday to determine whether or not to hand down indictments against the captain and some crew of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.
Prosecutors want Capt. Francesco Schettino to stand trial for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before his 4200 passengers and crew were evacuated when the Costa Concordia grounded off the coast of Tuscany in 2012, killing 32 people.
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Schettino's lawyers contest the charges, which could see him imprisoned for up to 20 years. They say he was the victim of a workplace accident and his actions actually saved lives.
"This was an accident at work. You cannot criminalize a man because he had an accident while working," attorney Francesco Pepe told reporters during a break in the hearing.
The hearings are scheduled to run until April 24 in the Tuscan town of Grosseto. They mark the intensification of legal proceedings over the wreck of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio in January 2012. Given the complexity of the case and Italy's notoriously slow judicial system, the case could drag on for years.
Prosecutors also want four other members of the crew and a Costa Concordia manager who was on the land at the time of the accident to face charges.
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The prosecution is also demanding compensation for the victims of the accident.
"As far as we know the latest negotiations have reached 27,000 euros as a last offer from the company. We will ask for one million euros compensation for each passenger," said Massimiliano Gabrieli, defense attorney for a group of Costa Concordia victims.
But the company's defense lawyer didn't see the demands as reasonable.
"Why not ask for 10 million euros; that wouldn't be bad. There would be a run to get on board cruise ships hoping there would be an accident, then get rescued and so solve all the problems in your life. This is really silly," said Costa Concordia defense attorney Marco De Luca.
Meanwhile, the ship's owners Costa Crociere want to be recognized as civil plaintiffs in the criminal proceedings, claiming they suffered damages through the loss of their $650-million cruise liner.
Costa Crociere, a division of Miami-based Carnival Corp., last week agreed to pay a $1.3 million fine as part of a plea bargain that exempted it from a criminal trial. However, it could still face private lawsuits.
Lawyers for many of the victims of the wreck are expected to lodge complaints this week.
Authorities from Giglio island have also weighed in. The island is seeking $105 million in damages to compensate for the "unrepairable damage to its identity, to its natural tourist vocation and to its image, which is now destined to be associated to such a tragic event."
The wreck of the 114,500 ton liner is still laying on its side in shallow water off the island's rocky coast. Salvage experts are hoping to get it afloat and tow it away this summer.
The Costa Concordia is also set to become the subject of a movie. An Indian crew is scheduled to start filming along the Tuscan coast later this year.
Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels.