Concordia shipwreck captain jailed as appeal fails

Rome (AFP) - The captain of the doomed Costa Concordia cruise liner turned himself in Friday after Italy's highest court upheld his 16-year prison sentence for the tragedy that killed 32 people.

Francesco Schettino, dubbed "Captain Coward" by the press for abandoning the stricken ship, passed through the gates of the Rebibbia jail in Rome as soon as the judges ruled.

Schettino, 56, was convicted in 2015 -- three years after the incident -- of multiple counts of manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew had been evacuated.

"He said 'I trust in the justice system, the verdict must be respected. I'm handing myself in right now'," his lawyer Saverio Senese said after speaking to Schettino by telephone.

Alessandra Guarini, a lawyer for relatives of the victims, said: "Justice has finally been served. I hope this brings a bit of serenity to those who lost their loved ones."

The victims included a five-year old girl and her father, a musician who gave up his seat in a lifeboat for someone else, and a woman who died on impact when she plunged from the sinking liner into the freezing waters.

- 'Got what he deserved' -

"Schettino really deserved this sentence. For his lies and for the lack of respect he had, even afterwards, towards the victims of that terrible shipwreck," said Elio Vincenzi, husband of a woman who drowned.

Prosecutors argued that Schettino's recklessness was to blame for the fate of the giant ship, which struck rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio on the night of January 13, 2012, and toppled over.

Schettino was widely ridiculed during the trial for insisting he did not abandon ship but slipped off the Costa Concordia as it rolled over, falling onto a lifeboat which carried him ashore against his wishes.

In a widely-quoted phone call a coast guard official is heard upbraiding Schettino and ordering him to "get back on board, for fuck's sake" -- an order the former captain refused to follow.

The violation of the ancient code of the sea which states a captain must be the last man off a sinking ship only accounted for one year of the sentence handed down by a three-judge panel in the Tuscan town of Grosseto.

During the first 19-month trial, Schettino was accused of showing off when he steered the ship too close to the island while entertaining a female friend.

- 'Scapegoat' -

Schettino's lawyers insisted the accident and its deadly consequences were primarily due to organisational failings for which the ship's owner, Costa Crociere, its Indonesian helmsman and the Italian coastguard should have shared the blame.

"Schettino is the only one to have paid a price. He was made the scapegoat," lawyer Senese said, adding that the defence team would now consider an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ex-captain "admits he is responsible but not that he is guilty, because on the Concordia there was a command team, he was not alone and the ship had many problems," he added.

The defence had also argued that it was not the collision, but rather the chaos that ensued due to the ship losing power that was the direct cause of the deaths. Schettino could not be blamed for the mechanical failures, it said.

The ship had been carrying 4,229 people, including 3,200 tourists.

Costa Crociere avoided potential criminal charges by accepting partial responsibility and agreeing to pay a one million euro ($1.2 million) fine.

Five of its employees received non-custodial sentences after concluding plea bargains early in the investigation.

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