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5 convicted over deadly Costa Concordia cruise liner wreck in Italy

5 convicted over deadly Costa Concordia cruise liner wreck in Italy
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POSTED: Sunday, July 21, 2013 - 12:00am

UPDATED: Sunday, July 21, 2013 - 12:14am

Five people were convicted of multiple manslaughter and causing personal injury Saturday over the deadly wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the Italian coast last year -- but only two may serve any prison time under the plea bargain accepted by the judge.

The convictions, the first in the case, came after Judge Pietro Molino accepted their plea bargain Saturday morning.

The five were originally co-defendants with the cruise ship's captain, Francesco Schettino. But he is now being tried separately on charges of multiple manslaughter in the wreck and abandoning ship. Court proceedings in his case began this week.

Thirty-two people died when the Costa Concordia, a luxury liner carrying 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members, struck rocks off the Italian island of Giglio on January 13, 2012.

Another 150 people were injured in the evacuation of the ship -- 65 of them seriously. The injuries include partial paralysis, amputations and, in one case, blindness.

Under the deal, Roberto Ferrarini, Costa Cruises' emergency manager in Genova, was sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison and Manrico Giampedroni, hotel director of the Costa Concordia, was given two years and six months.

Ferrarini spoke on the phone and by radio to Schettino the night of the crash between impact and evacuation, and Giampedroni was in communication with Ferrarini on Schettino's behalf that night.

Schettino's first mate Ciro Ambrosio, who was the officer on the bridge and in command of the ship when it went off course, was handed a sentence of one year and 11 months; third officer Silvia Coronica, who was second in command to Ambrosio at the time, received 18 months; and helmsman Jacob Rusli Bin was sentenced to 20 months.

Those three were also convicted of causing a shipwreck, or maritime disaster.

Audio recordings played to the court showed that helmsman Rusli Bin misunderstood Schettino's directions to turn moments before the ship ran aground.

Lawyer: 'We will appeal'

In Italy, sentences less than two years do not generally have to be served in prison except in some cases of homicide, but not in manslaughter. As a result only Ferrarini and Giampedroni aren't likely to serve any time in prison, although they would first have to exhaust the appeals process.

The prosecutor backed their plea bargain requests and all five are on the prosecution witness list for the trial of Schettino in Grosseto, the Tuscan city nearest the site of the wreck.

But Pierpaolo Lucchese , who is one of the many lawyers who objected to the plea bargains, told CNN he will appeal the sentences.

"It is unthinkable that these lives and the damage to the island are worth two years or less," he said by phone. "We will appeal this to Italy's highest court."

Schettino also asked Wednesday for a plea bargain in exchange for a sentence of three years and five months in prison, but the request has not yet been decided.

However, the prosecutor adamantly opposes it so there is little chance it will be accepted.

The next hearing in Schettino's case is scheduled for September 23, but the judges could rule officially on his plea bargain sooner.

Night of chaos

Schettino faces three criminal charges: involuntary manslaughter for the 32 deaths, causing a maritime disaster and causing personal injury to 150 people who were badly hurt in the accident.

According to passengers' accounts, chaos ensued that night as guests rushed to fill lifeboats and escape the shipwreck. Some crew members helped passengers and then jumped overboard, passengers said. Remaining crew members seemed helpless to handle the melee.

The case against Schettino centers on several questions, including why it took him more than an hour to issue an order to abandon ship and why the captain allegedly left the vessel before all passengers had abandoned it.

Given the complicated nature of the case, his trial could drag on for a year or more. The prosecutor presented the court with a list of 357 witnesses Wednesday.

Running in tandem with the criminal prosecution are numerous civil suits against Schettino, which can be heard at the same time. This means more than 250 civil parties are also represented in court.

Meanwhile, the Costa Concordia lies half-submerged on its side on the shore of Giglio Island, rusting and rotting in the waters off Tuscany's coast.

Nearly 500 workers are involved in an operation led by Titan Salvage to remove the wreck while protecting the marine environment.

Titan and Costa Cruises said earlier this month that they hope to be able to rotate the vessel to a vertical position in September. They will then be able to assess whether it can be refloated and towed away.
 

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