The captain of a giant cruise liner which capsized off Italy, killing at least 25 people, could be in danger if he attends a pre-trial hearing into the disaster this Saturday, his lawyer said.
Prosecutors have accused captain Francesco Schettino of causing the accident by sailing the multi-storey Costa Concordia too close to the Mediterranean island of Giglio in January, where it was torn open by rocks.
A hearing will be held in a theatre in the Tuscan town of Grosseto on Saturday, when judges will question experts about the wrecking of the 114,500 tonne liner.
His lawyer Bruno Leporatti said Schettino would not travel to the pre-trial hearing from his home in the town of Meta di Sorrento near Naples.
It is not of use or any help if he embarks on a return trip of 850 km from where he is held under house arrest, just to be present, which would be unnecessary and perhaps with this climate that has been created around him, also a little dangerous for him, he told Reuters Television in an interview this week.
Schettino is accused of a string of charges including multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew. He has already been subject to ridicule and condemnation around the world.
Seven people remain unaccounted for and divers are still looking for bodies in the capsized and partly submerged vessel.
Speaking in Grosseto, Leporatti said the captain is a man who has feelings, who is pained over what happened. He feels pain for the victims, naturally and is stunned by all that is going on.
First officer Ciro Ambrosio and seven other ships' officers and executives of the ship's owners, Costa Cruises, are also under investigation.
BLACK BOX EXAMINED
The hearing will come after 627 passengers disembarked in the Seychelles on Thursday from another Costa liner, the much smaller Costa Allegra, which had to be towed for three days by a French fishing boat in the Indian Ocean after a fire knocked out its engines.
Leporatti said the hearing in Grosseto would confirm what Schettino had said about the disaster from the start.
The new results from the investigations, the new visual evidence, show a completely different reality from what was originally claimed ... immediately after the incident.
We have seen a completely different take on things from what everyone has been trying to make us believe, he said.
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio told Reuters that the judge would spend Saturday assigning duties to expert witnesses.
They will be opening the famous black box that recorded the ship's movements, he said, and the experts will then be given a timeframe within which they have to report their findings.
Leporatti said Schettino, who is blamed for bringing the Costa Concordia to within a stone's throw of shore in a display manoeuvre known as a salute to islanders, had always said he should not be the only one blamed for the tragedy.
He said investigations were showing that there are also others, whose actions are currently being evaluated by the investigators and hopefully there will be even more.
Among those under investigation are the vice president of Costa, Manfred Ursprunger, and the head of its crisis unit, Roberto Ferrarini, with whom Schettino was in contact during the evacuation.
The company, a unit of the world's largest cruise operator, Carnival Corp, has blamed Schettino for the accident.
Many townspeople in Meta di Sorrento have been supportive of Schettino since his arrest, in contrast to media treatment elsewhere in Italy and abroad.
Let's wait to hear what the trial will say before we condemn him. This man has been executed before the trial has even started and you (the press) have executed him, said resident Rosa Tito on Friday.
Another man in Meta, who asked not to be named, told Reuters: I know from people who have known him and who have sailed with him that he has always been an excellent officer ... I don't know why he made the choices he did. I really don't know what may have gone through his head.
Hundreds of Italian and foreign journalists, together with television satellite trucks, are gathering in Grosseto, which is the centre of the investigation into the shipwreck.
Local media said around 70 lawyers and their teams, representing survivors and relatives of victims, among others, were expected to attend Saturday's hearing.
The theatre where it is being held can hold more than 1,000 people but the hearings will not be open to the public or journalists.
(Additional reporting by Eleanor Biles; Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Alison Williams)