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Five people sentenced to jail for Costa Concordia disaster

The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia is surrounded by cranes during a salvage operation in front of Giglio harbour in this January 11,
The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia is surrounded by cranes during a salvage operation in front of Giglio harbour in this January 11,

By Silvia Ognibene and Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Four Costa Concordia crew members and a company official were sentenced to jail in Italy on Saturday for their part in the 2012 cruise ship disaster that killed 32 people, leaving only the captain still on trial.

The five received sentences of between 18 and 34 months for multiple manslaughter, negligence and shipwreck - relatively short terms for the crimes, in exchange for pleading guilty.

None of the five are likely to be jailed as the sentences of under two years were suspended and the longer ones may be replaced with house arrest or community service, lawyers said.

"I think that the sentences are not enough," said Robert Fehrer, 28, whose brother Szandor, a violinist, died in the disaster. "It feels quite hard to face this, with the fact that I lost my brother."

"I don't think that justice was done," said Adam Csepi, a 24-year-old dancer whose spine was damaged in the accident.

"I was dancing since I was a child. I wanted it to be my career. This is not going to bring my life back. Even 20 years (jail) would not bring my career back, but they do deserve more than this."

Lawyers for the victims decried the verdicts as "shameful" and said they might appeal to Italy's appeals court to overturn the plea bargains that allowed reduced sentences in return for guilty pleas.

"The plea bargains are unacceptable, they shouldn't have been proposed or accepted. These sentences are ridiculous in the face of 32 dead," said Gabriele dalle Luche, who represents a group of Russian passengers, saying he would consider an appeal.

"This is shameful justice," lawyer Massimiliano Gabrielli told reporters before storming away in anger. "Truly, these sentences are shameful. I'm not talking any more. Goodbye."

The disaster occurred when the huge cruise liner hit a rock as it sailed close to the picturesque island of Giglio, prompting a chaotic evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.

Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, avoided a criminal trial by agreeing to pay 1 million euro ($1.31 million) fine in April, but victims are pursuing damages in a civil case.

GUILTY PLEAS

Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, remains on trial for manslaughter and causing the loss of his ship. He is also seeking a plea bargain to reduce a possible jail sentence.

The court gave the crisis coordinator for vessel owner Costa Cruises, Roberto Ferrarini, the lengthiest sentence of two years, 10 months, followed by cabin services manager Manrico Giampedroni who was given two-and-a-half years.

Three others including first officer Ciro Ambrosio were given suspended sentences of under two years.

Short penalties for non-violent crimes are routinely suspended under Italian law.

On Wednesday, Schettino's lawyers offered to accept a sentence of three years, five months in return for a guilty plea. A previous offer to serve three years, four months was rejected in May and he risks a much heftier sentence if no plea bargain is agreed. Hearings resume in September.

The captain is accused of abandoning ship before all crew and passengers had been rescued. A coastguard's angry phone order to him - "Get back on board, damn it!" - became a catch phrase in Italy after the accident.

His lawyers say he prevented a worse disaster by steering the 290-metre (950-ft) vessel into shallow waters after the impact and that he was thrown overboard due to the angle of the leaning ship, which still lies rusting off the island.

($1 = 0.7611 euros)

(Editing by Gareth Jones and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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