Hundreds of lawyers, investigators and survivors have gathered in a Tuscan town for an initial hearing into the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster that left 32 people dead or missing.
The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, and eight others, are under investigation over the events of January 13, when the multi-story cruise ship capsized near Giglio island in southern Italy. No one has yet been formally charged.
The focus of the initial evidence hearing in the nearby Tuscan town of Grosseto was the "black box." Investigators are hopeful that the audio recording of the events of that night will help them reconstruct events.
"Make it known that this is not the place to open the data recorder like a box and to hear what happened on the evening of the disaster," one of the investigators warned to damper any high expectations.
The judge assigned four experts to analyze the recordings and ordered them to present their findings in July. It will be months before all the evidence can be analyzed, lead prosecutor Francesco Verusio said.
Captain stays home
Captain Schettino is accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship, charges he denies. He is under house arrest at his residence near Naples and did not attend the hearing, saying he feared for his safety.
"It's just as well that Schettino is not coming," survivor Sergio Amarotto told AFP-TV as he entered the hearing, which the media were not allowed to observe. "He told one lie after another to try and cover up what he had done."
Consumer advocacy group Codacons, which is representing a group of survivors in a lawsuit against the ship's owner, Costa Crociere, said the company shared the blame with the captain.
"We've had enough of hearing that Costa did not know anything an hour after the crash," Codacons President Carlo Rienzi said. "We think this is unacceptable. They're trying to blame everything on the 'poor' captain … We believe that Costa was perfectly well informed."
The hearing had been moved from a smaller venue to a 1,000-person capacity theater in Grosseto.
More than 4,200 passengers and crew members were on board when the ship struck rocks near Giglio island and keeled over. Twenty-five people have been confirmed dead, while seven others are missing and presumed dead.
acb, ncy/sb,sjt (Reuters, AFP, dpa)