An Italian judge began hearing a request on Monday to send the former captain of the Costa Concordia and five other ship's officers to trial over the accident that sank the liner with the loss of 32 lives in January 2012.
Prosecutors are seeking to have the 52-year-old captain, Francesco Schettino, tried on charges that include manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, according to the Maritime Executive.
The luxury liner had just begun a Mediterranean cruise when it came too close to shore, hitting a rock that tore a gash in its hull and causing it to capsize in shallow waters just outside the port of Giglio. The captain allegedly steered the ship off course to perform a “stunt” and was flirting with women in the moments leading up to the crash.
Both Schettino and the ship's owners, Costa Cruises, were heavily criticized about both the accident and the chaotic nighttime evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew. Costa paid $1.31 million to settle potential criminal charges, although the payment did not affect lawsuits.
Schettino appeared in court in the Tuscan town of Grosseto wearing a gray suit and blue striped tie for the opening of the pretrial hearings, which are expected to run until April 24. If convicted, he could face 20 years in jail, but his lawyer said the case should not go to trial.
"This was an accident at work. You cannot criminalize a man because he had an accident while working," Francesco Pepe told reporters during a break in the hearing.
Judge Pietro Molino will also consider whether five other officers should face charges ranging from manslaughter to failure to cooperate with marine authorities.
The other people who could face trial are bridge officers Ciro Ambrosio and Silvia Coronica, helmsman Jacob Rusli, cabin services manager Manrico Giampedroni and the fleet crisis coordinator, Roberto Ferrarini.
Separately, lawyers for the local government in Giglio said it was seeking at least 80 million euros in damages from Costa. A lawyer for the company, a unit of the world's largest cruise operator, Carnival Cruises, part of Carnival Corp., said it aimed to compensate parties that had suffered.
Schettino was held up to ridicule after investigators of the accident said he brought the 951-foot Concordia too close to shore in a maneuver meant to "salute" Giglio island and then left his ship before the evacuation was complete.
A coastguard's telephoned order to the captain, "Get back on board, damn it!" became a catchphrase in Italy after the accident prompted a bout of national soul-searching over responsibility and leadership during times of crisis.