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Costa Concordia: Captain Attends Hearing
The captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner has attended an Italian court to hear evidence against him at a pre-trial hearing.
Francesco Schettino, 52, was dubbed "captain calamity" after it emerged he had steered the luxury £372m Costa Concordia onto rocks during an island sail-by salute which led to the deaths of 32 people.
He is facing charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a disaster and abandoning a ship while passengers were still on board. Prosecutors say if he is convicted they want him jailed for 2,697 years.
Schettino arrived at the back door of the Moderno theatre, which is serving as a courtroom, in Grosseto.
Wearing sunglasses and a suit, he waved at photographers but refused to say anything as he walked inside flanked by his legal team.
The court also accommodated the 500 people ranging from an army of lawyers, to passengers who are pursuing civil claims against the ship's owner, Costa Cruises.
Later, passenger Luciano Castro confirmed he had shaken hands with Schettino and how both had said they hoped the truth would come out.
He added:"I wanted to look him in the face. He looked embarrassed but it was cordial."
Prosecutors are outlining the case against Schettino and five other officers from the Concordia as well as three senior officials from Genoa-based Costa Cruises' crisis response team.
Evidence is being played onto three giant video screens set up inside and extra security has been drafted in to ring the building during the closed-door hearing.
Transcripts from the data recorders were played at the hearing that show how Schettino was already on dry land by midnight - while hundreds of passengers were still waiting to be rescued, the last being taken off just before 5am.
Before the hearing begun Italian consumer group Codacons released excerpts they had obtained from the Concordia voyage data recorder which contained audio and radar images.
Just after the ship departs the Italian port of Civitavecchia, Schettino is heard telling other officers on the bridge: "Right, let's go and salute Giglio."
The audio then picks up the moment of impact and the confusion and fear in Schettino's voice as he orders the water-tight doors to be closed before yelling "hard to port" as alarm bells ring in the background.
Earlier several lawyers representing other officers under investigation and passengers who are pursuing legal action against Costa Cruises and its US owners Carnival spoke to the media.
American lawyer John Eaves who is acting for 150 passengers including several Britons described the 11,000 euro (£8,900) compensation that has already been awarded to survivors as "peanuts".
He added: "Some of the people we represent are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and nightmares. At the very least they should be entitled to $200,000 (£125,000).
"For those that lost a loved one then the American standard should be applied. A life has a much higher value, that's a very serious matter and we would be looking at between $2m and $5m.
"What has been offered is disrespectful to the value of life - it's peanuts. What's very clear is that Schettino made a mistake but the company is at fault here standards have not been maintained."
Schettino has been under house arrest at his home in Meta di Sorrento near Naples, but the judge in the case, Valeria Montesarchio, has given him dispensation to attend the hearing, which is expected to last three days.
Disaster struck in January, just two hours after the state of the art 290-metre-long luxury liner left Civitavecchia for a week's Mediterranean cruise with 4,200 passengers and crew on board, including 30 Britons.
Schettino is said by prosecutors to have deliberately altered course and steered the Concordia onto rocks just a stone's throw from the island of Giglio, at a point known as Le Scoglie, tearing a 70-metre gash in the hull.
Maritime regulations say the ship should have been at least five miles out to sea and Schettino has claimed the rocks were not on his charts and the sail-by salutes had been authorised by Costa.
He is also said to have delayed the evacuation by an hour and misinformed maritime authorities of the extent of the damage, telling them simply that the liner had undergone an "electrical blackout".
In his statement to investigators, Schettino also said he had "tripped" and fallen into a lifeboat and was unable to get back on board despite repeated orders from the coastguard to return to his post and oversee the evacuation.
The hearing will listen to a court-appointed panel of experts who produced a 260-page report into the disaster which concluded that Schettino was to blame after he changed course and went too fast.
He has hit back and said that his actions on the night by steering the ship close to Giglio harbour in fact saved lives and prevented an even greater disaster.
The hearing is taking place as the recovery operation at Giglio to reflate the 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia continues, with the vessel unlikely to be finally removed until June 2013 at the earliest - 17 months after the disaster.
Locals want the Concordia removed as quickly as possible because it has affected tourism, with long-stay visitors dropping by half and replaced instead by tragedy day trippers who simply come to gawp at the sight and then leave.
The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday with Schettino again expected to attend.