The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia has returned to the site of the disaster for the first time since the ship crashed into rocks killing 32 people.
Source:
AAP
26 Feb 2014 - 9:01 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 9:04 AM

The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship, Francesco Schettino, returned to the site of the disaster for the first time after the judge at his trial ruled he could board the stricken vessel.

Schettino took a ferry to Giglio Island off the coast of Tuscany in central Italy, where the giant ship has remained stranded since it crashed on the night of January 13, 2012 in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.

The chief judge at Schettino's trial in nearby Grosseto earlier on Tuesday accepted a request from his defence that he be allowed to take part in an inspection of the ship by a group of experts from the court on Thursday.

Contacted by AFP, his lawyer Domenico Pepe was not able to say what Schettino would be doing on Wednesday before boarding the ship. The island's mayor Sergio Ortelli said he knew nothing about Schettino's visit.

Pepe said his return would be a "great emotion" for Schettino and "could help establish the facts".

Judge Giovanni Puliatti on Tuesday said Schettino would be allowed onto the ship "as a defendant, not a consultant" and would therefore have permission only to "be present during the work but not to intervene".

Many local residents blame Schettino for a tragedy that has turned life in their small fishing community upside down, although some also say he should not be a "scapegoat" and point to wider responsibilities.

Five other people including Roberto Ferrarini, the director of ship owner Costa Crociere's crisis unit, have negotiated plea bargains over the crash but Schettino is the only person currently on trial.

The luxury liner crashed into a group of rocks just off shore as it was attempting a risky "salute" manoeuvre with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.

The captain is charged with manslaughter, causing environmental damage and abandoning the ship before the end of the evacuation - an accusation that has earned him the tabloid nickname of "Captain Coward".