LEGAL BATTLE

01.26.12

Costa Concordia Legal Battle Gets Ugly

With no hope of finding more survivors, the Concordia drama has moved to land. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

Two weeks after the wreck of the Costa Concordia, recovery efforts are still underway off the coast of Giglio Island. The giant sunken ship is moving toward deeper waters at a nearly undetectable rate of 1 millimeter an hour. Many of the windows are shattered, and the decks are pocked with holes from micro-explosions emergency workers have set off to reach the bowels of the sunken vessel. Gone is the hope for survivors, says Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s civil-protection agency, who is heading the emergency operations. “It's obvious that for all the time that has passed, and given the conditions, finding someone alive today would be a miracle,” he told reporters at his daily press conference. “We have to gradually accept the idea that in those conditions there is no more hope of survival.”

Without the search for survivors, attention has shifted away from Giglio, where the families of the still 19 missing wait in excruciating agony for bad news. Only 16 bodies have been found, and only nine of those have been identified. Authorities are waiting for identifying materials like DNA and dental records from family members, though some of the dead may not have been registered passengers, and emergency workers worry their identities may never be known. “There is a possibility that there were clandestine passengers onboard the ship,” Gabrielli says. “We may not have a complete list.”

Away from Giglio, attention has instead turned to the complicated world of the Italian judicial system. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are sparring with leaked documents. The prosecutors’ obvious aim is to paint a picture of Capt. Francesco Schettino as the careless rogue who took his massive liner for a joy ride, clipping the rocks off Giglio and then ditching his sinking ship full of passengers for the safety of dry land. Schettino’s lawyers are fighting back with their own leaked documents, including court testimony in which the captain told the investigating judge that he had slipped and fallen into the ship and was unable to return because of the mass confusion. There are also reams of transcripts and curiously taped calls that Schettino made in the hours after the crash. “They made me do it,” he was wiretapped telling a friend he referred to only as Fabrizio about why he passed so close to the island. “They were breaking my balls, telling me to go there, to go there. The rocks were there, but they didn’t show up on my navigation instruments.”

Meanwhile, Schettino’s wife, Fabiola, gave an exclusive interview to Italian magazine Oggi in which she told the glossy that her husband was not a “monster” but instead a “maestro.“ This is a manhunt,” she said. “They are just searching for a scapegoat.”

The investigation is being run out of Grosseto where Beniamino Deidda, chief prosecutor, told reporters they plan to extend the investigation to the Costa Cruiseline pointing out “problems and incredible acts of irresponsibility regarding safety and organization.” He does not rule out charging Costa as well. “The employer is guarantor and has a responsibility. Decisions taken by the cruise company should also be under close scrutiny.”

In the meantime, superlawyer Giulia Bongiorno, who played a significant roll in the appellate acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecto, is heading up a class-action lawsuit against Schettino and Costa. She has around 50 of the nearly 1,000 Italian passengers ready to sign the docket against the captain, crew, and the company.  “There is a lot of confusion about what really happened and why,” she told The Daily Beast. “We will make sure the investigators find out of Schettino is to blame alone or if his company shares the responsibility.”

Back on Giglio, a Dutch salvage company is in place to start the defueling process that will begin on Saturday if weather conditions hold. It will be months—maybe even years, say workers on the scene—before the wreckage is cleared from the pristine waters.  The delicate process of removing 500,000 gallons of fuel without spilling a drop into the pristine Mediterranean Sea is set to begin this weekend.