The Costa Concordia captain has returned to the stricken cruise ship for the first time since the accident two years ago that killed 32 people. Francesco Schettino was criticized for leaving the vessel as it sank.
Schettino pushed his way through a crowd of reporters on Thursday as he departed Giglio Island on a boat towards the Costa Concordia. His visit to the ship was part of a court-ordered inspection in the trial against him for multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all passengers were safely evacuated.
The Costa Concordia ran aground and keeled over in January 2012 when Schettino attempted a risky "salute" maneuver. Thiry-two of the ship's more than 4,000 passengers were killed when it capsized near the coast.
Schettino claims he fell into a lifeboat during the accident, and then stayed on dry land in order to coordinate the nighttime evacuation. It later emerged that he had disobeyed orders from a rescue official to return to the ship and help with rescue efforts, actions which led tabloids to call him "Captain Coward".
"They want to show that I am weak, just like two years ago. It's not true! I want to show I'm a gentleman, not a coward," Schettino was quoted as saying by Italian media.
The luxury vessel has since been righted in the largest-ever salvage operation of its kind. It's due to be towed away for scrapping in June.
The trial against him at the court in Grosseto has allowed Schettino to take part in one of the technical inspections of the ship being carried out by lawyers, judges and experts. Judge Giovanni Puliatti emphasized that Schettino's presence on Thursday was "as a defendant" and not "as an expert," and that he won't have the right to speak during the trip.
Schettino's lawyers have argued that the captain has been made a scapegoat and that blame should fall to others. A Coast Guard report questioned the actions of the ship's owners, Costa Crociere, particularly the poor training of some of the crew.
dr/hc (AFP, dpa)