Rome, May 24 (IANS/AKI) The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that hit rocks and sank off Tuscany last year, killing 32 people, will go on trial in July.
Francesco Schettino faces criminal charges including multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the 4,229 passengers had been evacuated.
The trial will open July 9 in Grosseto, the city nearest to the site of the wreck.
Schettino is accused of recklessly steering the ship too close to the Giglio island Jan 13 last year, causing the vessel to ram into a reef and tip onto its side just hours after it set sail for a Mediterranean cruise.
He denies any wrongdoing and has portrayed himself as a hero who managed to steer the stricken vessel closer to shore so that it did not sink in deep water where hundreds might have drowned.
His lawyers say he is being made a scapegoat for what was simply an accident.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Schettino is said to have sailed close to Giglio's shore to "salute" islanders.
On July 8, a judge will consider plea bargains entered by five other suspects in the investigation, including the head of the crisis unit of the ship owner, Costa Cruises, and four ship officers.
The five suspects could face up to two years and 10 months in prison if found guilty.
Costa Cruises, part of the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, has accepted limited responsibility for the tragedy.
Recently, a judge fined the company a million euros ($1.3 million) in a plea bargain to settle possible criminal charges.
The Costa Concordia still lies partially submerged while salvage crews work to refloat it.
In April, the government claimed 37 million euros in damages to Italy's international image and environment.
Giglio island has asked for 80 million euros in damages.