Symbolic of the drama surrounding the Costa Concordia shipwreck in Italy, the initial hearing of the criminal investigation into the cruise-ship disaster was conducted Saturday not in a courthouse but in a theater, according to The Associated Press.
A central focus of the investigation necessarily is Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was the master of the luxury liner that capsized excruciatingly close to the Italian island of Giglio after running aground on Friday the 13th in January, killing at least 25 people and injuring 64 others. Seven are still missing.
Prosecutors have contended Schettino caused the disaster by maneuvering the Costa Concordia, with about 4,250 crew members and passengers, too close to the shore. He is currently under house arrest.
One of the more disturbing details in the media coverage of the hearing Saturday was the allegation that Schettino was not wearing his eyeglasses on the evening of the accident and therefore requested his first officer to check the radar for him, the first officer's attorney told Reuters.
The first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, and seven other people with ties either to the ship or to the ship's owner -- the Italy-based Costa Cruises unit of the U.S.-based Carnival Corp. -- are also being investigated in connection with the accident.
That evening, Schettino had left his reading glasses in the cabin and repeatedly asked Ambrosio to look at the radar to check the route, Ambrosio's lawyer Salvatore Catalano told Reuters outside the hearing venue. The first officer had made the same allegation about the captain to investigating magistrates at previous hearings, Catalano added.
Schettino has claimed the rock hit by the cruise ship was not shown on his navigational charts, but he also has acknowledged he brought the ship too close to the shore. However, he has contended he is not the only one to blame for the tragedy, Reuters reported.
None of those under investigation attended the closed-door hearing in the city of Grosseto, where the theatrical venue accommodated hundreds of victims' relatives, survivors, and attorneys for all parties, Reuters said.
Prosecutors must decide whether to seek a trial against the captain and the other seven people under investigation. Keys to their decision could be what experts determine to be the facts that led to the cruise-ship disaster, AP reported.
Four experts were appointed by the court to examine the luxury liner's data recorder, AP said, adding that the judge apparently has ordered the experts to present their findings at a hearing on July 21.