Reuters International

Captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner Francesco Schettino arrives for his trial in Grosseto February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

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By Silvia Ognibene

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - A 16-year prison sentence for the former captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner for his role in the deadly 2012 shipwreck was upheld on Tuesday by an Italian appeals court.

Francesco Schettino, who was commanding the ship when it hit rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 people, and the prosecutor had both appealed against the sentence handed down last year.

Schettino was found guilty by a lower court of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning passengers in one of the highest-profile shipping disasters in recent years.

Florence's appeals court upheld that ruling, rejecting a prosecutor's request to extend the term to 27 years and three months and Schettino's lawyers' call for him to be acquitted.

The captain, who has admitted some responsibility but denied blame for the deaths that occurred during the evacuation after the ship's side tore on the rocky shore, did not attend court.

"The blame is shared, the problem is quantifying it," Schettino's lawyer Donato Laino said outside court after breaking the news to his client by telephone.

Asked whether Schettino, who wept during his final testimony last year, had expressed bitterness, Laino said: "Certainly."

Schettino can appeal against the appeal court's ruling, which also bars him from working on a ship for five years.

The judges who delivered the first verdict ruled that he would not go to prison until the appeals process - which can take years in Italy - is complete.

Investigators said Schettino brought the 290-metre vessel too close to shore and criticised his behaviour severely.

The ship's owner, Carnival Corp unit Costa Cruises, paid a fine of 1 million euros ($1.3 million at the time / £768,625) and prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five officials.

A lawyer representing a group of survivors said she had asked for a probe into the company's role to be reopened, because "there are still some guilty parties to identify".

The Costa Concordia's hulk wallowed on its side in the waters off Giglio, a popular holiday destination, for two-and-a-half years before it was righted and towed away in one of the most expensive maritime wreck recoveries in history.

The last body was recovered in 2014.

The Florence court ruled Costa Cruises and Schettino should pay the island's government 300,000 euros in compensation.

(Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Alison Williams)

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