Filippo Monteforte / AFP – Getty Images
Press gather outside the Moderno theatre in Grosseto, on Saturday for the Costa Concordia shipwreck initial evidence hearing.
By NBC News, msnbc.com staff and news services
GROSSETO, Italy — Survivors and relatives of victims of the Costa Concordia shipwreck clamored for truth at a pretrial hearing in Italy on Saturday, with some still waiting for identification of the remains of their loved ones nearly two months after the disaster.
The giant cruise liner capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio after hitting a rock on January 13, killing at least 25 people. Seven people are still unaccounted for, and eight of the bodies found have yet to be identified.
Prosecutors have accused captain Francesco Schettino of causing the accident by bringing the multi-storey Costa Concordia, which was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, too close to the shore.
Eight other officers and executives of the ship’s owner, Costa Cruises, are also under investigation.
The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy. At least 17 people died in the accident, and rescuers continue to search for others missing.
NBC News reported that more than 4,000 people were invited to attend the hearing. In order to fit everyone in one space the trial is being held in the Modern Theater in the coastal town of Grosseto.
The theatre is expected to accommodate victims’ relatives, survivors and lawyers for all sides, but is not open to the general public or media.
“We are here to look for justice and the truth, rather than compensation. They nearly killed us,” Giacomo Brignone, a survivor of the accident, told NBC.
“We want to know the truth, what happened, and what we are supposed to do now. That’s all we are asking,” stated Hilaire Blemand, a French national whose 25-year-old son Michael was onboard the ship with his girlfriend Mylene Litzler, 23.
Both are still reported missing.
“It’s been too long already, it’s been six weeks,” he stated at the theater.
Fighting back tears at his side, Mylene’s mom Brigitte Litzler stated her anguish had deepened after identification of the bodies was suspended at the request of the lawyer for one of the ship’s officers under investigation. He argued forensic experts from the defense team should be part of the process.
“It’s like they have killed them a second time,” Litzler said. “We are dead inside already, they have killed our children so we are dead, too. But we will not give up, we will keep returning until we have them back.”
Captain in dangerSchettino, who is under arrest in his home in Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, did not turn up for the hearing. His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, stated he could have been in danger had he decided to attend.
The captain “is a man who has feelings, who is pained over what happened. He feels pain for the victims,” Leporatti told Reuters Television.
During a hearing held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee reviewed U.S. cruise ship safety regulations as well as international safety standards and heard testimony from Costa Concordia cruise ship survivors. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.
Lawyer: Captain of capsized cruise ship could be in danger
His presence at the hearing would have been “unnecessary and perhaps with this climate that has been created around him, also a tiny hazardous for him,” Leporatti said.
Schettino is accused of a string of charges including multiple manslaughter and abandoning the 114,500-ton liner before the evacuation of all passengers and crew.
“I do not think he has got the guts to show up in front of all the passengers whom he put through all that fear,” Adriano Bertaglia, a survivor participating in a class action suit against the company, told Reuters in front of the theater.
The hearing comes after 627 passengers disembarked in the Seychelles on Thursday from another Costa liner, the Costa Allegra, which had to be towed for three days by a French fishing boat in the Indian Ocean after a fire knocked out its engines.
‘We’re alive’: Tired passengers stream off stricken Costa Allegra
Marco de Luca, the lawyer for Costa Cruises, told NBC: “I think we were unlucky. I do not think anybody can deny that.”
Passengers who managed to escape from the listing ship stated they wanted to know why the evacuation order was delayed for more than an hour after the ship struck a rock that tore a massive gash in the hull.
“It’s not for me to judge, but no-one should have died that evening, why did they wait for so long?” asked Sergio Amarotto, who was aboard with his wife, two cousins and some friends.
“Schettino did something absurd by bringing the ship so close to the shore, and then he kept telling lies, one after the other. But I want to know whether the managers of Costa are also responsible.”
Among those under investigation are the vice president of Costa, Manfred Ursprunger, and the head of its crisis unit, Roberto Ferrarini, with whom Schettino was in contact during the evacuation.
The company, a unit of the world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Corp, has blamed Schettino for the accident.
At the hearing in Grosseto, judges will order tests on the black box recorders from the ship.
More from msnbc.com and NBC News:
Follow us on Twitter: @msnbc_world
NBC News correspondent Claudio Lavanga, NBC News producer Michele Neubert, msnbc.com staff and Reuters contributed to this report.
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