Costa Concordia ship owner seeks victim status in wreck

Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Jan. 14, 2012. AP Photo/Guardia di Finanza

GROSSETO, Italy The owner of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia asked a court on Monday to consider it a victim of the disaster, saying it too wants to seek damages for the 2012 grounding off Tuscany that killed 32 people.

Costa Crociere SpA, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., made the request as the court in Grosseto, Italy, opened a preliminary, closed-door hearing into the grounding and whether to issue indictments against the captain and crew.

In Italy, civil cases are heard alongside criminal ones.

In the criminal part of the case, prosecutors want Capt. Francesco Schettino to stand trial for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated. They want four other crew members and a Costa manager on land to face charges of having botched the emergency.

A decision on the indictment wasn't expected Monday, lawyers said.

Lawyers representing the shipwrecked passengers hope the formal complaint filed Monday will trigger a wider investigation, CBS Radio's Sabina Castelfranco reports.

Schettino ordered the ship taken off course Jan. 13, 2012, to bring it closer to the island of Giglio as a favor to friends. But the ship rammed into a reef off the island, leaving a 70-meter (230-foot) gash in the hull and causing the liner to take on water and capsize. Passengers recounted a harrowing and delayed evacuation: by the time Schettino ordered passengers to evacuate, the ship was listing so far to one side that many lifeboats couldn't be lowered.

Schettino has defended his actions that night, saying he saved lives by bringing the hobbled ship closer to port and that the reef wasn't on his nautical charts.

Last week, a judge fined Costa 1 million euros ($1.3 million) in administrative sanctions under a plea bargain. Under Italian law, companies can face such sanctions when their employees commit crimes. But in the criminal case hearings on Monday, Costa sought to be considered by the court as a victim of the crime.

"After the poor victims, Costa is the most damaged party having lost a 500 million euro ship," Costa attorney Marco De Luca said. He said he is seeking damages from Schettino and the other defendants "as the penal code says 'who is guilty of a crime has to pay for it.'"

One of Schettino's attorneys, Francesco Pepe said it was "absurd" for Costa to portray itself as a victim, saying there were a series of malfunctions on the ship that night and that the company itself hired the crew members who proved they were not "up to the situation."

Last fall, court-ordered experts squarely blamed Schettino for the grounding, but they also faulted the crew and Costa for a series of blunders, delays and safety breaches that contributed to the disaster. Specifically, the experts found that crew members weren't trained or certified in security and emergency drills, and that on the night of the disaster Costa delayed alerting costal authorities about the disaster - a charge Costa has denied.

The Concordia remains on its side, grounded off Giglio's port. Officials are preparing the ship to be rolled upright and towed from the rocks to a port to be dismantled - an operation on a scale that has never before been attempted. The cost has swelled to 400 million euro.

The island of Giglio, a popular tourist spot famed for its clear waters, is also seeking 80 million euro in damages to compensate for lost revenue and the eyesore that has been on its horizon for over a year.

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