Costa Cruises has made a deal with an Italian court to limit its criminal liability for the capsizing of the Costa Concordia with the loss of 32 lives for a fine of €1 million.
The plea bargain payment, which enables the Italian company to avoid a possible criminal trail for the disaster last year, is a set tariff.
It means Costa Cruises will not face any more criminal charges and will now aim to participate in the forthcoming trial as an injured party.
A judge in Tuscany accepted the plea agreement for Costa Crociere, a division of Carnival Corporation in connection with the shipwreck off the island of Giglio in January 2012.
The company will not face trial, but a hearing is scheduled to start on Monday to determine whether six of the line’s employees - including Concordia captain Francesco Schettino, who is accused of steering the vessel onto the rocks - must stand trial on charges that include manslaughter.
Marco de Luca, a lawyer for Costa, called the plea agreement “the most reasonable solution.” The company has blamed Schettino for the disaster.
But US lawyer John Arthur Eaves Jr., who represents 150 of the 4,000 passengers and crew members, said the accident was “primarily the fault of Carnival and its subsidiary Costa Crociere” and that the companies should have faced charges.
Italian consumer group Codacons, which also represents passengers, described the fine as “a slap to the survivors and most of all to the relatives of the victims of the shipwreck.”
“The responsibility of the company for the shipwreck on Giglio is more than evident, as are the many shortcomings in the safety systems on the Costa Concordia,” Codacons said in a statement.
Costa still faces civil lawsuits by the relatives of passengers who drowned while trying to flee the ship, as well as by survivors who have turned down the firm’s starting offer of about €11,000 per person in compensation.
Codacons, advised passengers to reject the offer and instead called for a €125,000 minimum for each passenger, saying that potential psychological trauma had to be taken into account.
The plea agreement means Costa may pursue legal action as an injured party. The company has said it will seek payment of damages for the loss of the ship.
Codacons spokesman Stefano Zerbi said it would have been preferable to see Costa Crociere "stand trial alongside its staff."
He said: “It is a legal paradox that the firm can pay this fine and then simply reappear at a trial as an injured party, as a victim."
Salvage operators expect to right Concordia in early August before seeking to float it off the rocks in the autumn.
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