Rome - A document admitted as evidence to an Italian court on Monday indicated that the dangerous manoeuvre that led to last year's deadly Costa Concordia shipwreck had been performed before, leading lawyers to suggest that it was standard practice.
The cruise liner crashed against rocks and partly capsized after captain Francesco Schettino made a detour near the Italian island of Giglio, allegedly to please head waiter Antonello Tievoli, whose relatives lived in Giglio.
On Monday, his lawyers submitted to judges trying Schettino a document from the Lloyd's insurance group -which tracked the Concordia's movements - showing that Captain Massimo Garbarino also took the vessel near Giglio on 14 August 2011. Massimiliano Gabrielli, a lawyer for survivors and victims' relatives who backed the submission from the defence counsel, said Lloyds classified the 2011 manoeuvre as a "missed accident," while ship owners Costa Crociere did not.
Gabrielli charged that Schettino, Garbarino and Mario Palombo, another Costa Crociere captain who has retired, would "race" each other in navigating as close as possible to Giglio, to show off their skills. A lawyer for Giglio's local authority - another plaintiff in the case - submitted articles from a local news site reporting on the passage of Costa vessels.
On one occasion, Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli wrote to Garbarino to thank him for "the incredible spectacle." In a statement, Costa Crociere insisted it was "false" that it was aware of its ships performing so-called "bows" near the island. "The company sets the route to be followed, it is then the captain's responsibility to decide any variation," it said.
It added that "in some cases, so-called 'tourist routes' are followed; in other words, an approach nearer to the coast to offer another attraction to guests." Thirty-two of the 4 229 people who were on board the Costa Concordia died in the 13 January 2012 shipwreck. Schettino is being tried for manslaughter, abandoning ship and other serious crimes.
Prosecutors say he risks a jail sentence of up to 20 years. Four other crew members and a Costa Crociere manager were also indicted, but they avoided trial after negotiating plea bargain agreements carrying suspended jail sentences ranging from 18 to 34 months. Italy's top appeals court upheld those punishments on 31 January, despite criticism from survivors and victim's relatives, who deemed them too lenient.
In separate proceedings last year, Costa Crociere - a subsidiary of US-based Carnival - entered into another plea bargain agreement to pay a €1m fine.