Experts: Costa Concordia equipment malfunctioned before crash

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Video: Francesco Schettino, the captain of the capsized Costa Concordia, faced the survivors and families of victims at a court hearing where audio from the ship’s black box was released. NBC’s Michelle Kosinksi reports.

Gregorio Borgia / AP

The case of the former captain of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship Francesco Schettino, 51, is of such interest that a theater had to be turned into a courtroom to accommodate those who had a legitimate claim to attend the closed-door hearing.

GROSSETO/GIGLIO, Italy – An Italian court heard on Tuesday that equipment aboard the Costa Concordia luxury liner may not have been functioning when she ran aground and capsized, killing 32 people.

The list of issues compiled by a panel of court-appointed experts included a wide range of alleged malfunctions, from lights that did not work during the disaster to the possibility that radar equipment had been turned off or broken.

The hearing is closed to the public because the huge media interest could not be accommodated.

The 114,500-ton luxury cruise ship capsized on Jan. 13 after approaching the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a maneuver close to the shore known as a salute. It struck a rock which tore a gash in its hull.

Previous story: Packed court as Costa captain hears evidence

Also on Tuesday, Francesco Schettino, the captain blamed for the disaster admitted he made mistakes but accused the cruise liner company of mishandling the response. He said last week he was suing Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp., for unfair dismissal following the accident.

His lawyer Francesco Pepe said the hearing would show his client was not solely responsible for the disaster.

“Schettino’s responsibility needs to be established and it needs to be established that others may have contributed as well,” he said after the conclusion of the hearing’s first day.

Meanwhile in Giglio, where the stricken liner still lays on her side awaiting salvage, news has emerged that thieves broke into the Costa Concordia earlier this year, stealing furniture, paintings and luxury goods from a gift shop. Sources at Costa Crociere say the thieves had used entry holes and guide ropes made by search and rescue teams to get into the ship.

Video: An Italian court will decide if Francesco Schettino, the captain of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship, should face a full trial next year for the deaths of 32 people. NBC’s Claudio Lavanga reports.

I saved your lives’
Schettino slipped into court by a back door on Tuesday, wearing dark glasses and offering just a brief wave to waiting journalists. According to Italian TV network Tg1, he spoke to two German Costa passengers inside court, saying, “I saved your lives and those of many other passengers.”

This week’s hearings will help the judge decide if Schettino should stand trial. He is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still aboard. He denies the accusations and has not been charged.

Video: Six months after the Costa Concordia disaster, some of the survivors are fighting the settlements being offered to them and sounding the alarm that throughout the cruise industry, passengers have fewer rights than many may realize. Rock Center’s Harry Smith reports.

Previous story: Costa Concordia cruise ship captain says sacking unfair

A key question is how much of the blame Schettino should shoulder himself and how much responsibility lies with his crew and employer, Costa Crociere, a division of the Miami-based Carnival Corp. Costa Crociere has denied negligence and has distanced itself from Schettino, firing him in July.

In all, nine people face the prospect of criminal trial, which would be unlikely to begin before next year.

The company’s lawyer defended the ship’s other crew.

“I believe that everything that came out yesterday — and the conclusions drawn by the court appointed experts — acknowledge that everything that could have been done by the Costa Concordia crew, was done,” Marco de Luca, a lawyer for Costa Crociere, told NBC News, outside the courtroom. 

“The one fact that has been completely underestimated is that more than four thousand people were disembarked in a short period of time — some two hours — and this was done exclusively by Costa personnel.”

Praxilla Trabattoni and Claudio Lavanga of NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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