An Italian court heard yesterday that the leadership qualities of the captain of the Costa Concordia had been brought into question some three years before the cruise liner ran aground.
Francesco Schettino is on trial on charges ranging from manslaughter to negligence and abandoning ship over the January 13, 2012 shipwreck that claimed the lives of 32 of the 4,229 people on board.
The court in the central city of Grosseto called to the stand the former president of the ship’s owners Costa Crociere, Gianni Onorato, and former chairman and chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi.
Onorato testified that a company report dated April 21, 2009 stated that Schettino’s leadership qualities were “poor” and his planning and control skills were “very poor”.
“We still trusted captain Francesco Schettino, otherwise we would have not given him responsibility over the Costa Concordia and other company ships,” said Onorato.
Foschi said the report on Schettino “highlighted some areas where there was room for improvement and others where there was sufficient evidence of his skills”.
He said an internal investigation had found Schettino liable for the accident and cleared the Costa Crociere crisis unit that had advised him when the ship ran into difficulties.
Schettino made international headlines when it emerged that he had disembarked while passengers were still trapped in the vessel and disobeyed orders from rescuers to “get back aboard, damn it!”
Schettino said he had slipped into a lifeboat after the vessel hit a reef off the island of Giglio and listed.
He was found to have steered the ship dangerously close to Giglio before it hit the reef.
Foschi dismissed suggestions that the company sanctioned the practice of sailing dangerously close to scenic locations.
“That night that ship should not have been in that place, at that time,” Onorato said.
He denied having received prior information from his brother Ciro, a friend of Schettino, who was working on board as a waiter.
At the time of the crash, Onorato’s brother was on the bridge with Schettino and others.
“He called me about 1am and told me ‘I am safe, I am onshore’. It was the first time that I connected the Concordia to my brother Ciro,” Onorato said.
Schettino’s lawyers, backed by a group of lawyers for survivors and victims, argue that he is being made a scapegoat to mask blame on other crew and Costa Crociere.
Recordings suggest the ship’s Indonesian helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, twice failed to understand Schettino’s orders moments before the vessel hit a reef.
He was due to appear as a witness yesterday, but prosecutors told the court his whereabouts were unknown.
There have also been allegations that key equipment on the ship did not work, that its crew was poorly trained, and that Costa Crociere did not fully inform authorities about the scale of the disaster on the night of the accident.
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