GROSSETO, Italy — Survivors of the Costa Concordia cruise disaster expressed anger over the “insulting” prison sentence given to the captain who abandoned his ship while passengers and crew were still aboard.
Francesco Schettino was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his actions during the accident and for causing the deaths of 32 people in the wreck off the Italian coast. The punishment, handed down Wednesday by a three-judge panel in Tuscany, was 10 years short of what prosecutors had sought.
He was given 10 years for manslaughter over the deaths, five years for causing the shipwreck when he steered too close to Giglio Island, one year for abandoning the vessel when hundreds were still aboard, and one month for downplaying the collision to maritime authorities, delaying the arrival of help.
“That’s less than four months per person who died,” said Blake Miller, from Austin, Texas, who escaped the January 2012 disaster on a lifeboat.
He said the one-year sentence for abandoning the vessel was “the most insulting” aspect. “That’s the basic thing of being a captain, you don’t abandon your ship. To only get a year for that is crazy.”
Schettino, who was dubbed "Captain Coward" by Italian media after the disaster, was not in court for the verdict and was not under arrest because he still has two levels of appeals to exhaust under Italian law before he must begin serving his sentence.
“He'll be free for years and years and years as long as he keeps stringing out the appeals,” Miller said. “Horrible.”
The ship’s owner Costa Cruises — part of Carnival Corp — paid a $1.3 million fine and accepted a plea bargain for five other employees.
“I would love to see [Schettino] go away for a lot longer but thing that bothers me much more than anything right now is that Costa … seems to be skating by,” added Steve Garcia, who is Miller's partner.
Ann Decre, the head of a body representing French survivors, said the verdict could not cover the human cost. "For the family of the dead people, it's not … months or … years for them, it's forever," she said outside the theater in Grosseto that had served as a makeshift courtroom.
Keven Rebello's brother, Russel Rebello, was a ship waiter who stayed aboard to lower the last of the lifeboats. His body was found only after the Costa Concordia was towed away from Giglio after a salvage effort lasting more than one year.
"What's important is not to forget this affair. Instead, if Schettino ends up in prison, after a while everyone will forget about him, just like they will forget about the victims," Rebello was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.
"I don’t ever think he was sorry, I think he is sorry he is being convicted"
Miller expressed anger at Schettino’s apparent lack of remorse and his tearful 11th-hour plea for mercy during Tuesday’s final trial arguments.
“I thought it was ridiculous, it was crocodile tears,” Miller said. “He had no emotion for the victims or for anything that had happened before and all of a sudden it is the day before sentencing and he has this reaction. He was feeling sorry for himself and not for what happened, he never once felt anything for the people who really suffered in this whole event.”
Miller added: “I don’t ever think he was sorry, I think he is sorry he is being convicted. I don’t think that he was ever sorry for the accident. He thinks that he is a hero and that he saved thousands of lives and … the sooner we can [put a] muzzle on him the better."
The couple also recalled the terror of their “terrifying” ordeal on the ship.
“I remember moments of it — they come to me in flashes, like racing up the stairs and being told we were in the wrong place,” Garcia said. “Hearing screaming that sort of thing comes back to me in short flashes. And that, to me, is very vivid, very real.”
Miller added: “The chaos really is what I remember the most. We were desperate. No one gave us any information. We couldn’t find anyone who was an authority who could tell us what we were supposed to be doing. So people were kind of relying on each other to get through.”
As they tried to escape in a lifeboat, the pair thought they were in danger of dying.
“That’s when I said, ‘If this is the last moment we are together, I’m glad we spent this together’” Garcia recalled.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alastair Jamieson reported from London.