Costa Concordia captain to go on trial for disaster that took 32 lives

ROME (AFP) - The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship will go on trial from July 9 for manslaughter over the January 2012 disaster in which 32 people lost their lives, an Italian judge ruled on Wednesday.

Francesco Schettino has also been accused of abandoning the giant vessel, which crashed into a Tuscan island and keeled over, before all 4,229 people on board had been evacuated.

The trial will be held in Grosseto, the city nearest to the site of the tragedy.

Five other suspects in the investigation - four crew members and the head of ship owner Costa Crociere's crisis unit - have requested plea bargains, which are now expected to be approved.

Sentences for the plea bargains, which have been given the go-ahead by prosecutors but require approval from a judge, range between a year and six months, and two years and 10 months in prison.

A judge last month said Costa Crociere, the biggest cruise ship operator in Europe and a subsidiary of the United States-based giant Carnival Corp, had accepted limited responsibility as the employer of all the suspects, and he ordered it to pay a fine of 1 million euros (S$1.6 million) in a decision that was hugely contested by survivors' groups.

The company can still be sued in civil courts.

The giant luxury liner crashed into the island of Giglio just as many passengers were dining on the first night of their Mediterranean cruise, prompting a panicked and chaotic nightime evacuation.

Most of the survivors who did not suffer injuries or lose loved ones have accepted compensation from Costa of around 11,000 euros each.

The ghostly wreck of the liner is still beached on its side just a few dozen metres from the shore of Giglio. Salvage crews are working flat out to stabilise and refloat the hulk in an unprecedented operation.