Captain Francesco Schettino, dubbed Italy’s “most hated man” by tabloids over the spectacular crash of his cruise ship last year with the loss of 32 lives, went on trial on yesterday charged with manslaughter.
The 52-year-old, also dubbed “Captain Coward” over accusations that he abandoned ship while passengers were still trapped onboard, looked tense as he arrived for the start of the trial in Grosseto, Italy.
It is being held in a local theater in the city, the closest to the site of the wreck of the Costa Concordia on the island of Giglio, due to the large numbers of survivors from the tragedy expected to attend.
Schettino, wearing sunglasses and a bright blue suit, came in through the press entrance by mistake and was immediately mobbed by reporters, fending them off and asking to be let through.
Schettino, who is not being detained during the trial, has asked for television cameras not to be allowed in.
“Otherwise it would be a film,” he said in an interview with Italian daily Il Messaggero.
“There has been media havoc since the tragedy... This is not some village festival, this is a trial. There are people who died and a man who will try to explain,” he said.
The hearing was cut short after just a few minutes because of a national lawyers’ strike and the trial was postponed to Wednesday next week.
With his slicked-back hair and macho swagger, Schettino has been portrayed as a villain who was showing off in front of a female guest by performing a risky “salute” maneuver which ended in tragedy.
“Madonna, what have I done?” he was heard gasping on audio recordings from the bridge just after the crash.
However, his defense team has said that while he made mistakes he should not be the sole defendant, and the ship’s owner Costa Crociere, Europe’s top cruise operator, should share at least some of the blame.
Lawyers for some survivors say he is a scapegoat.
Locals in Grosseto also showed a degree of sympathy for the captain.
“We cannot just crucify Schettino,” said 28-year-old Maria at a bar in the city center.
Up to 450 witnesses and 250 plaintiffs could be called during the trial, which has been long awaited by the families of the victims and survivors who have complained about delays in Italy’s justice system.
Trials in Italy can last for months or even years.
Schettino has been charged with multiple manslaughter, causing environmental damage and abandoning the ship.