Francesco Schettino, captain of the Italian liner Costa Concordia was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Captain Schettino was at the helm when in 2012 Concordia hit rocks and sank, killing 32 people. He was accused of taking the cruise ship too close to shore and then abandoning the vessel with crew and passengers still on board.

The 54-year-old Schettino said he was being made a scapegoat and denied the charges. His lawyers had argued it was a collective failure of the crew and others should share the blame for the disaster.

Schettino was not present when the verdict was read out by Judge Giovanni Puliatti at the court in the city of Grosseto and is expected to appeal against the verdict.

Earlier yesterday, on the last day of this 19-month trial, Schettino had made an emotional final appeal and sobbed as he told the court that he had spent the last 3 years "in a media meat grinder".

Prosecutors had sought a jail term of 26 years but the court sentenced Francesco Schettino to 10 years for multiple manslaughter, 5 years for causing the shipwreck and 1 year for abandoning his passengers.

Investigators had accused the captain of bringing the 290m-long liner too close to shore. Costa Concordia struck a rock off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio on 13 January 2012, and consequently capsized. More than 4,000 crew and passengers were forced into the chaotic evacuation.

Schettino said he had taken Concordia close to land for "commercial reasons", trying to please his guests and the people ashore. At the helm with the captain had been his lover, Domnica Cemortan, but Schettino rejected rumours that he had wanted to impress her.

In 2013 the company that owned the ship, Costa Crociere, sidestepped potential criminal charges by agreeing to pay a $1.3 million fine. It is being sued by Giglio island, the Tuscany region and survivors for further damages. The ship had been removed from the shores of the Giglio island through a massive salvation operation for more than $1 billion.

Five employees, including the helmsman of Costa Concordia, were handed prison sentences from 18 months to 2 years and 10 months in plea bargains which concluded earlier in the investigation.

While the captain's trial took over a year and a half, the panel of 3 Italian judges needed only 5 hours to determine the verdict and sentence.