The trial of Francesco Schettino, charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship in the Costa Concordia tragedy, finally got underway on Tuesday. Four other officers had been charged but were given plea bargains.
The trial got underway in the Tuscan city of Grosseto for one hour before it was adjourned due to a lawyers strike. The strike is a protest of new government regulations meant to accelerate civil trials and is expected to be brief and meant as a show of strength. Schettino's trial is expected to get back underway on July 17.
Schettino, sometimes referred to in Italy as 'The Chicken of the Sea,' was the captain of the Concordia on Jan. 13, 2012, when she went too close to the island of Giglio in the Tuscan Sea and slammed into a reef, ripping a hole into her hull and causing her to list over. It is alleged he took the ship in close to 'salute' a former colleague living on the island. There are bridge transcripts where he can be heard speaking about saluting his friend but he denies any wrongdoing.
Sixty-five percent of the 114,500-tonne vessel carrying 4,229 passengers and crew is now underwater. Schettino was placed under house arrest only days after the tragedy and is widely blamed for the deaths of 32 passengers and crew; two of the bodies, a female passenger from Italy and a male crew member from India, have yet to be recovered.
Among the dead was a five-year-old girl.
The proceedings are taking place in a theater made into a makeshift courtroom to accommodate the huge crowds expected, most of whom will be relatives of the dead who say they are there to see justice prevail.
Outside the courtroom, Schettino's lawyer, Demenico Pepe, told media he and his client seek only the truth in the matter. "The idea that he abandoned the ship is a wrong interpretation," Pepe said. "We want the truth to come out of this trial."
The ship remains 300 meters off of the shore of Giglio, a massive hulking thing visible all over the town. It is being prepared to be refloated by the American firm Titan Salvage and the Italian firm, Micoperi. Once raised sometime next spring, the Costa Concordia will be towed to the port of Piombino to be scrapped.