The operator of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise liner, which crashed and partly sank two weeks ago with more than 4,200 people aboard, made its first attempt on Friday to limit the legal consequences of the shipwreck and chaotic evacuation, offering a settlement of about $14,400 to each uninjured passenger.
The cruise line operator, Costa Cruises, a unit of the Carnival Corporation, which is based in Miami and is the world’s largest cruise ship company, said that in addition to the settlement, it was reimbursing each passenger for the full cost of the cruise, travel expenses and any related medical expenses, at an estimated cost of nearly $4,000 each.
The Jan. 13 shipwreck off the coast of Giglio Island, near Italy’s scenic Tuscan coast, left at least 16 people dead and at least 16 still missing, and has become a major black eye for the cruise ship industry.
The 950-foot vessel, half-submerged on its starboard side, poses a threat of becoming an environmental disaster because of its half-million gallons of fuel and other potential pollutants, some of which were already leeching into the Giglio Island shallows, a marine sanctuary. Salvage workers were scheduled to start extracting the fuel this weekend.
It was unclear how many passengers would accept the settlement offer, which would require that they relinquish the right to sue. The proposal does not apply to the ship’s crew members, the roughly 100 people injured or the families who lost relatives.
A statement by consumer groups representing a majority of Costa Concordia passengers, a diverse array of people from 61 countries, said the offer appeared designed to avoid the “lengthiness and heavy expenses due to a trial.” Representatives of other consumer groups rejected the offer outright.
“The compensation is ridiculous and disproportionate for the damage suffered,” said Marco Ramadori, a lawyer for Codacons, Italy’s best-known consumer group, which along with two American law firms and a German lawyer, is filing a class-action lawsuit against Costa Cruises and Carnival Corporation. The suit, expected to be filed in Miami, will seek about $165,000 per passenger — more than 10 times the amount Costa offered.
“Today’s proposal from Costa simply exploits the lengthy Italian justice system to scare people away from the class action,” Mr. Ramadori said.
Some consumer groups and individuals have already declared themselves injured parties in a pending criminal case against the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who is under house arrest. Prosecutors were expected to charge him with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.
In what appeared to be the first lawsuit filed by a Costa Concordia crew member, Gary Lobaton, of Peru, he claimed that the ship operator had failed to alert passengers and crew of a “deadly and dangerous condition of the cruise ship.” Mr. Lobaton, who is seeking damages for himself and others aboard, also said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago that Captain Schettino had abandoned ship at “the first available opportunity he had.”
Costa Cruises has sought to portray Captain Schettino as the only person responsible for the shipwreck, accusing him of veering off course without permission. Captain Schettino has said that his superiors ordered him to get close to Giglio Island for sightseeing purposes and that that the ship hit an uncharted rock.
The chief executive of Costa Cruises, Pier Luigi Foschi, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the Costa Cruises marine operations director, Roberto Ferrarini, had been “completely surprised” by the evacuation order. In the many phone calls between the captain and the company’s headquarters in Genoa that night, Mr. Foschi testified, the captain never conveyed the seriousness of the stricken ship’s predicament.
Francesco Verusio, the prosecutor in the case, said Friday that Captain Schettino and his first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, who also had piloted the ship, were the only people under criminal investigation.
Source: New York Times