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Italian cruise ship captain freed from house arrest

From Livia Borghese, for CNN
July 6, 2012 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner Francesco Schettino is escorted by an Italian policeman in Grosseto on January 14, 2012.
The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner Francesco Schettino is escorted by an Italian policeman in Grosseto on January 14, 2012.
  • NEW: A newspaper publishes an account saying the captain credits "a divine hand"
  • Francesco Schettino is freed from house arrest but must stay in his home town
  • He was in charge of the Costa Concordia when it struck rocks and overturned
  • Schettino's lawyer says his behavior under house arrest has been "faultless"

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Rome (CNN) -- Italian judges released the captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner from house arrest Thursday, but ordered him not to leave his home town while the case against him continues, his lawyer said.

Francesco Schettino has been under house arrest in his home town of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, since January 17.

At least 30 people died when the cruise liner struck rocks and turned on its side off the Italian island of Giglio on January 13.

Schettino faces allegations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship, failing to report an accident to the coast guard and destroying a natural habitat, a prosecutor said this year. Giglio is a protected park.

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Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, had argued for the lifting of the restrictions on his client, saying his behavior had been "faultless."

The judge leading the preliminary investigations, Valeria Montesarchio, said it would be easy to keep Schettino under "adequate supervision" in Meta di Sorrento without house arrest because it is a small town, according to court documents released Thursday.

In addition, the months Schettino has spent under house arrest have already produced a "deterrent effect," Montesarchio said.

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The judge also lifted a provision barring Schettino from communicating with anyone apart from his lawyers and family.

From the beginning, Leporatti said, the attitude of the captain had been "totally collaborative, he has spoken on his defense but admitting his responsibilities, without trying to download them on others."

The lawyer said the judge's decision to order Schettino to stay in his home town was "the least punitive measure" available to him.

Also on Thursday, Italian newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno published documents written by Schettino's lawyers that purport to be the captain's recollection of what happened on the night the Costa Concordia struck rocks off the Italian coast.

"No one, until then, had warned me that we had passed the point of turn on the fixed route. Luckily I saw the white froth on my left. It was a sign that made me give the order to tack to starboard, out of pure instinct. At that moment a divine hand has definitely landed on my head. If I had continued on that route, we hit the rock with the bow. It would have been a massacre," Schettino said, according to the newspaper.

A court hearing on July 21 will start the examination of the enormous amount of technical information gathered in the wake of the disaster.

Schettino's first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, and six other officers both on the ship and from the firm Costa in Genoa are under investigation over allegations including manslaughter, shipwreck and failure to report the accident, the prosecutor in the case has said.

No one has been charged in connection with the shipwreck.

Schettino previously has said managers of the Costa cruise line instructed him to sail close to the island and has denied allegations that he was sailing too fast. He has said the rock the ship struck was not indicated on his charts of the area.

Salvage experts announced in May that efforts to raise the wrecked liner from the sea floor in one piece and tow it from the disaster site were getting under way.

Covering a cruise ship disaster

CNN's Aliza Kassim and Todd Sperry contributed to this report.

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