Grosseto (Italy): Italian prosecutors on Wednesday rejected a plea bargain bid by the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off Italy last year, killing 32 people, defense lawyers said.
Captain Francesco Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all 4,200 passengers and crew were evacuated.
Defence lawyer Francesco Pepe said Schettino had wanted to defend himself at a trial but when the five other defendants in the shipwreck off the Tuscan coast all sought plea bargains during a closed-door hearing Tuesday, his defense team decided to change strategy.
"We weren`t planning on requesting a plea bargain. But when we saw the development in the hearing, we were practically obliged to do so," Pepe said.
Prosecutors agreed to plea bargains for the other five defendants but not for Schettino, lawyers said -- meaning Schettino might be the only defendant if a trial is ordered.
Prosecutors left the hearing without talking to reporters.
A judge must rule on prosecutors` request that Schettino be indicted. Another hearing was scheduled for Thursday but it was not immediately known when the decision would be announced.
Prosecutors have alleged that Schettino steered the ship too dangerously close to the island in a publicity stunt but the captain says he is a being made a scapegoat. He contends the Concordia struck a reef that was not on nautical charts, although the jagged rock, close to the coast of the tiny island of Giglio, is well known to local sailors.
Schettino has depicted himself as a hero. He contends that his skillful handling of the ship after the collision on the evening of January 13, 2012, help guide the crippled vessel closer to Giglio`s port, making rescues easier and thus likely reducing the number of victims.
In seeking the plea bargain, Schettino`s defense team sought a prison sentence of three years and four months. If he goes to trial and is convicted, Schettino could face as much as 20 years in prison, Pepe said.
The Concordia began taking on water and listing badly after its hull was gashed by the reef. Survivors have said the evacuation was delayed and chaotic and not all the lifeboats could be used because of the sharp tilt of the ship. Many passengers and crew jumped into the sea, swimming to safety on the island.