The pretrial hearing into the Costa Concordia disaster began in the small Tuscan town of Grossetto this week, while just a few miles away salvage crews were beginning the mammoth task of removing the stricken vessel from the seabed.
The hearing began on Monday and is expected to last all week, with judges expected to make their decision as to whether Capt Francesco Schettino should stand trial next year on multiple counts of manslaughter, abandoning ship and negligence for one of the biggest catastrophes in Italy’s maritime history.
Lawyers representing both the victims and survivors of the disaster are seeking millions of pounds in compensation from both Costa Cruises and parent company Carnival Corporation for the accident that claimed the lives of 32 people last January.
Experts who have been examining the Concordia’s black box will put their findings formally to the judge, while survivors of the disaster will also recount their version of events before a decision is reached.
However, much of the expert’s report that will be presented to the judge will be familiar as this has already been made public.
The report notes how Capt Schettino steered the vessel too close to the Italian island of Gigilo to salute island residents.
In response to the accusations Capt Schettino has admitted a level of responsibility, yet he believes that he managed to save hundreds of lives by manoeuvring the cruise liner away from deeper water. He also claims that his commands that fateful day were not executed properly by his fellow crew, which he believed would have prevented the accident.
“If the crew had done what he said, it would only have been a near miss,” said the general secretary of the Confederation of European Shipmasters' Associations, Capt Fredrik Van Wijnen, who attended the hearing alongside Schettino.
“He intended to go close to the island but he was depending on other people. As soon as he saw that something was going wrong, he took action.”
Meanwhile, the massive job to remove the ill-fated ship is expected to take even longer than anticipated it has emerged this week, according to Titan - the team responsible for removing the wreck.
Initially, Titan estimated that the salvage operation, which is expected to cost over $300 million, would be completed by early next year.
However, Titan’s senior salvage master Nick Sloane told Al Jazeera that he does not expect the job to be completed until June 2013 at the earliest.
Sloane said that hard granite seabeds coupled with the anticipation of adverse winter weather has meant that his team has revised its timescale for the operation.
“Winter is coming up. If we can get done on schedule without too much of a weather impact in the winter season, then that will be a big bonus for the whole project,” said Sloane. “We hope the winter will be mild, but it probably won’t.”
Video courtesy of Al Jazeera