Francesco Schettino, captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship, took the stand for the first time Tuesday, combative and contradicting the testimony of not just his first captain but also what he has said in the past about the deadly shipwreck.
Schettino — who is charged with manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship with passengers still on board — denies wrongdoing. He faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted.
Five of the captain’s co-workers have already entered guilty pleas in the case, including two of his officers.
These pleas may work against Schettino as he answers questions with regard to the co-workers’ testimony before the court in Grosseto.
When shown the deposition given by his first captain, Ciro Ambrosio, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a lighter sentence, Schettino was argumentative and gesticulated wildly.
What Ambrosio told the court in his testimony is similar to the version of events Schettino has given in past TV interviews, but the captain contradicted that version in his testimony Tuesday.
Schettino’s attorneys argued that what the captain has previously said on Italian TV cannot be used as evidence in court. The disputed testimony deals with such details as radar readings, who was on the bridge at the time of the accident and where those people were positioned.
Speaking to CNN during a court break, Schettino said he was confident about how his trial was progressing.
“It is exhausting, but I think it is going well,” Schettino said of Tuesday’s hearing. “It is important because this is the only chance I have to tell my version of events.”
Asked if he thought the court was sympathetic to him, he said, “This is the first time I have had a chance to officially address the court personally so this should be the first time they should be judging me. I am confident.”
The cruise liner capsized after it struck rocks off Italy’s Giglio Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea on January 12, 2012. No one died on impact, but 32 lives were lost during the subsequent chaotic evacuation of some 4,200 people on board the ship.
Chaos on thebridge
Schettino was sworn in under a giant sign reading, “The law is equal for everyone,” in a makeshift courtroom in Grosetto’s red velvet Teatro Moderno.
As assistant prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi questioned Schettino, the captain painted a picture of utter chaos on the bridge both before and after the accident.