An Italian court has accepted guilty pleas from five people involved in the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground on the Italian coast 18 months ago. The accident killed 32 people.
Four crew members and an employees of the cruise company Costa Crociere, which operated the vessel, were sentenced Saturday to prison terms ranging from 18 to 34 months, but it is uncertain whether any of the five will be sent to prison.
The ship's captain, accused of cowardice and incompetence following the wreck, is on trial for manslaughter, but his trial is currently in recess until late September. He faces a potential 20-year prison term.
The cruise company's "crisis coordinator" received the longest prison term handed down Saturday, and the Costa Concordia's cabin service director was ordered to serve 30 months in jail. Reports circulating in Tuscany say the two may appeal their sentences or ask for permission to substitute community service for imprisonment.
Two bridge officers and a helmsman sentenced to less than two years in prison each are not expected to be jailed, because such sentences in Italy usually are suspended.
The Costa Concordia had more than 4,200 people on board when it ran aground in January 12 on rocks near the shore of the Italian island Giglio, where the rusting vessel still lies on its side.
The 52-year-old captain, Francesco Schettino, is accused of causing the accident by steering too close to shore and of abandoning his ship before most of those on board were evacuated.
Schettino has said he fell overboard when the listing ship suddenly slipped on the rocks, tumbling him into the water. His lawyers contend he prevented a worse disaster by steering the 290-meter-long vessel into shallower waters after a reef tore a 70-meter gash in the hull.
Schettino's lawyers have discussed a potential guilty plea in court, but no agreement was reached before his trial was adjourned Thursday. Hearings will resume on September 23.