Costa Concordia: Pre-trial hearing held in Italy

Oil recovery vessels work beside the wreck of the Costa Concordia at Giglio Island, western Italy, 15 February
Image caption The wreck still lies off the Tuscan coast

Key information about the capsizing of the Costa Concordia cruise ship has been handed over to a panel of experts during a pre-trial hearing in Italy.

The court-appointed experts will now spend months examining the evidence.

At least 30 people are believed to have died when the ship struck rocks off the Tuscan coast on 13 January.

Captain Francesco Schettino denies accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all those aboard were evacuated.

He did not attend the hearing, in the town of Grosseto.

Panel of experts

Mr Schettino's brother-in-law has said that the captain is feeling both depressed and scared as he watches the inquiry unfold from his home in the town of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, and that the deaths of those who did not survive are weighing heavily upon him.

His lawyer Bruno Leporatti added that Mr Schettino was "stunned" by the accident.

"He is a man who has feelings, who is pained over what happened," he said.

The hearing took place in a theatre in Grosseto which has been turned into a temporary courtroom. Relatives of the victims, survivors and lawyers attended.

Image caption The hearing took place in a theatre in the Tuscan town of Grosseto

No journalists or members of the public were allowed to attend.

Evidence and testimony amassed since the crash, including recordings from the ship's "black box," was handed over to the panel - made up of two naval experts and two academics.

The BBC's Alan Johnston, in Rome, says these four will have the task of trying to reconstruct what happened and apportion degrees of culpability and blame. He says the process will probably take months.

The ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped open when it hit rocks in darkness, just hours into a Mediterranean cruise.

'I messed up'

The company, part of the world's largest cruise operator Carnival Corp, has blamed Mr Schettino for the accident.

Costa Cruises has said it has "complete faith in the judicial system" and has offered its "fullest collaboration" with the Italian authorities.

The investigation will also look at the decisions and actions of Costa's vice-president, Manfred Ursprunger, and the head of its crisis unit, Roberto Ferrarini, with whom Mr Schettino was in contact during the evacuation.

Image caption The ship's first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, is one of those under investigation

The ship's first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, is also under investigation. An Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, has published a leak of an account said to have been given by the second-in-command to the inquiry.

In it, he says that Capt Schettino had explicitly taken sole command of the ship on the approach to the island. At the last moment, he realised he was too close and ordered a sharp turn away but it was too late and the ship hit the rocks.

Speaking in Neapolitan dialect, the captain is then reported to have said: "I messed up", according to the newspaper.

It reports that, according to Mr Ambrosio, Mr Schettino was reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the crisis and was not truthful when the coastguard began demanding information.

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