VIDEO: “Quadcopter” view of Costa Concordia

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The captain responsible for creating the most expensive maritime salvage operation in history will stand trial for the Costa Concordia shipwreck and faces 20 years in jail, an Italian judge ruled Wednesday.

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Cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino is accused of multiple manslaughter and abandonment of post before the evacuation of all 4,200 passengers and crew in the January 2012 accident in which 32 people died.

The trial is scheduled to begin July 9 in Grosetto in northern Tuscany.

Five other defendants struck plea bargains and were given sentences of between one and three years, according to international press reports that said Schettino had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of 3-1/2 years. Prosecutors rejected that deal.

Meanwhile, as the ship lies crippled just a stone’s throw from shore, a creative video crew known as Team BlackSheep, which specializes in using camera-equipped, remote-controlled mini-helicopters to capture impossible perspectives, recently conducted its own flyover.

Click play to watch.

The team launched a pair of “quadcopters” equipped with cameras to swoop over the wreck just a few feet above the massive hull and, at times, land on it. The result is an impressive up-close look at one of the most famous shipwrecks in history.

To pre-empt possible criticism, Team BlackSheep posted this explanation for the project on its site:

“This video was shot at the location of a tragic accident. It is not our interest to gain attention on the backs of those who have lost loved ones. This video is supposed to be a showcase for possible UAV applications. Our goal is to display the stranded ship in a never-before-seen way. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who drowned on this day and we are hoping for a swift removal to reveal again the underlying beauty of Giglio Island, Italy.”

Click here for an article profiling the trio behind Team BlackSheep in the February issue of Wired magazine.

Schettino is accused of causing the shipwreck by steering the Costa Concordia too close to Giglio. When the island’s rocky coast tore a hole in the ship’s hull and chaos ensued, he is alleged to have waited too long to ask for help and abandoned ship before all of the passengers were off.

Click here for a report on the judge’s ruling by The New York Times and click here for a report by Britain’s Daily Mail, which refers to Schettino as “Captain Calamity” and “Captain Coward.”

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The wreck still lies on its side off the island, where it has become a grim tourist attraction.

Salvage crews are working to refloat the ship in the largest-ever operation of its kind. The plan is for the 114,500-ton liner to be pulled upright by cranes, helped by caissons filled with water and attached to the ship’s sides. Once it is floating again the water in the caissons will be replaced with air and the ship will be towed to the port of Piombino and broken up. The vessel's owner, Costa Cruises, expects the removal to cost about $320 million.

In a related development, the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport recently posted on the IMO Global Integrated Shipping Information System site the English translation of its report on a safety technical investigation into the accident.

The English version of the report was posted online by the commercial maritime blog Bryant’s Maritime Consulting.

— Rich Armstrong