An Italian judge will order the examination of the Costa Concordia’s black box today in the first pre-trial hearing into the cruise-ship wreck that killed at least 25 people.

Judge Valeria Montesarchio will ask court experts to use digital recordings to ascertain the “actual dynamic of the accident,” according to court documents. The hearing, which is not public, starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Tuscan city of Grosseto. Recordings of the black box won’t be played during the hearing, the Grosseto prefecture said on Feb. 24.

The Costa Concordia, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.’s (CCL) Italian unit Costa Crociere SpA, hit rocks near the island of Giglio hours after leaving a port close to Rome with 4,200 passengers and crew on Jan. 13. At least 25 people died in the evacuation and seven are still missing. The company came under criticism again last week when a ship of the same fleet suffered an onboard fire and was towed for 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the Seychelles.

The Grosseto court will hold the hearing at a local theater to accommodate as many as possible of the 4,200 passengers and crew. It is open to the Costa Crociere officials under investigation, including Captain Francesco Schettino, the affected parties, their attorneys and consultants. Prosecutors requested that the hearing include the black-box recordings in the trial.

Captain Arrested

Schettino, under house arrest since Jan. 17 for allegedly causing the accident and abandoning ship, probably won’t attend, his lawyer Bruno Leporatti has said. Costa Crociere’s executive vice chairman and its head of marine operations are also being investigated, said a court official who declined to be named.
Schettino sailed too close to Giglio without authorization and didn’t follow emergency procedures, Costa Crociere, based in Genoa, said on Jan. 15. The captain said he made an emergency maneuver after hitting rocks to prevent the ship from heading out to sea and sinking, according to a court document dated Jan. 17. The black box hasn’t been damaged, Costa Crociere Chief Executive Officer Pier Luigi Foschi has said.

Leporatti has said the captain didn’t abandon the ship and wrote in a Jan. 16 statement that his actions saved many lives.

After Italian prosecutors widened their probe to include seven employees of the vessel operator, the company said on Feb. 22 it is “absolutely certain” that its staff acted correctly.

On March 1, Italy banned cruise ships from sailing within 2 miles of coastlines in “environmentally sensitive” areas.

Source: Bloomberg - reporters Marco Bertacche and Chiari Vasarri