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Cruise operator under pressure at Costa Concordia court hearings

GROSSETO, Italy -- Europe's top cruise operator came under pressure on Monday at pre-trial hearings into the Costa Concordia disaster as captain Francesco Schettino faced survivors for the first time.

Hundreds of people including lawyers and survivors attended the closed-door hearings in Grosseto in central Italy — the nearest city to the scene of the Jan. 13 capsize of the luxury liner on Giglio island which claimed 32 lives.

“We came to see Schettino. We want to look him in the eye and see how he reacts to the accusations,” Michael Lissem, a 50-year-old from Germany who was a passenger on the luxury liner along with his wife Angelika, told AFP.

The giant ship — more than twice as heavy as the Titanic — had 4,229 people on board when it struck an offshore reef near Giglio, tearing a massive gash in its hull, just as many passengers were settling down for dinner.

No date has yet been set for the trial which is likely to be held next year.

The court hearings in Grosseto, which could last several days, are being held in a theater to accommodate the large numbers of people present.

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