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Costa Concordia skipper fights for sentence appeal in court

Former cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino has started an appeals trial in Italy to overturn his 16-year prison sentence. The prosecution has also appealed the decision, saying Schettino deserves more jail time.

More than four years after the Costa Concordia disaster, an appeals trial for the ship's former captain, Francesco Schettino, began in Florence, Italy on Thursday.

In February 2015, the court ruled that Schettino's recklessness caused the Costa Concordia cruise ship

to hit underwater rocks

off the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012, killing 32 people.

The 55-year-old former seaman - who has yet to begin his 16-year-and-one-month-sentence - is looking to overturn a manslaughter conviction.

Although he did not personally show up in court, his lawyers said they will argue that blame for the accident should not fall exclusively on Schettino.

Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground is seen off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island

32 people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and tipped over in 2012

"We will ask that the responsibility of all the protagonists in this affair be redefined, not just that of our client," Donato Laino, one of Schettino's advocates, told news agency AFP.

Laino said the deadly accident had been primarily caused by

a failure of organization

for which the ship's owner, Costa Crociere, its Indonesian helmsman and the Italian coastguard should share the blame.

The prosecution also simultaneously appealed last year's sentence, maintaining that the court shoud have given Schettino 26 years behind bars.

'Captain Coward'

Schettino was convicted of multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and of leaving his boat before all passengers and crew had been evacuated - a breach of centuries-old sailors' code.

During his first, 19-month-trial, Schettino was accused of causing the crash

by showing off

when he steered the ship too close to the island and of being distracted because he was allegedly entertaining his lover at the time.

Watch video 12:06

The Final Voyage of the Costa Concordia

Failing to be the last person off the boat accounted for one year of the sentence, and earned him the nickname "Captain Coward" in international media.

His defense team's argument that Schettino had "fallen" into a lifeboat during the ship's evacuation, earned the maligned sailor even more ridicule.

"I will fight for ever to prove that I did not abandon the Costa Concordia," Schettino urged following his conviction.

Plea bargains for crew

The company Costa Criociere avoided potential criminal charges in 2013 by accepting partial responsibility and agreeing to pay a 1 million euros ($1.1 million) fine. Five of the company's employees, including the Indonesian helmsman, concluded plea bargains and received non-custodial sentences.

Five of the years of Schettino's sentence were given for causing a disaster that led to

the largest ship-salvaging operation in maritime history.

The appeals trial is expected to run at least through May - with 11 hearings scheduled in May alone. Should Schettino's appeal prove unsuccessful, he can take his case to the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest court.

rs/kms (AFP, dpa)

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