Concordia captain is jailed for 16 years over fatal shipwreck
The captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia has been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Captain Francesco Schettino was at the helm when the ship hit rocks and sank in 2012, killing 32 people.
He was accused of taking the liner too close to the shore and then abandoning ship with passengers and crew still on board.
Schettino denied the charges and said he was being made a scapegoat.
The verdict and sentencing brought an end to a trial that has been running since July 2013.
Prosecutors had insisted Schettino was a "reckless idiot" and asked the court to sentence him to 26 years and three months in prison.
Schettino wasn't present when Judge Giovanni Puliatti read out the verdict last night in a Grosseto theatre, but the former captain told the court earlier he was being "sacrificed" to safeguard the economic interests of his employer. He then broke down and sobbed immediately before the panel began deliberating.
"That's enough," Schettino said, unable to finish his statement to the three-judge panel.
Testimony put the spotlight on errors by other crew and equipment malfunctions after the Concordia smashed into a jagged reef when Schettino steered the ship close to the the island of Giglio's shoreline while passengers were having supper in the main dining room.
The reef gashed the hull, seawater rushed in, and the Concordia listed badly, finally ending up on its side outside Giglio's port. Autopsies determined that victims drowned aboard ship or in the sea after either falling or jumping off the ship during a chaotic, delayed evacuation.
Earlier in court Schettino said he was "a few hours from a verdict that should have involved an entire organisation and instead sees me as the only defendant".
"My head was sacrificed to serve economic interests," the 54-year-old Neapolitan seaman told the court.
Schettino said he had taken the ship so close to land for "commercial reasons" in a bid to please his passengers and those ashore.
He had also rejected rumours that he had wanted to impress his lover, Domnica Cemortan, who was with him at the helm.
Lawyers for many of the survivors and victims' families have attached civil suits to the criminal trial to press the court to order Costa Crociere SpA, the Italian cruise company, to pay hefty damages.
While insisting Schettino deserves conviction and a stiff prison sentence, the plaintiffs' lawyers have lamented to the court that no one from the cruise company's upper echelons was put on trial.