Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino begins 16 year jail sentence for shipwreck

The captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner has begun a 16-year jail sentence for wrecking the ship in a disaster that killed 32 people.

Francesco Schettino was convicted of manslaughter in 2015 after he steered the ship onto rocks after veering to close to the shore off Tuscany.

Despite the conviction he had avoided jail by going through a series of appeals.

Family members of the victims expressed relief Schettino was finally behind bars after Italy's highest court upheld the conviction and sentence.

Michelina Suriano, one of the lawyers representing the victims, said "finally Schettino begins to pay for his wrongdoing."

Thousands of people were on the ship when it crashed into a reef. Credit: AP

The Costa Concordia had more than 4,000 people on board when it was crashed onto a reef near the coastline.

Schettino was labelled "captain coward" for abandoning ship shortly after the accident as passengers struggled to escape.

The last body was recovered from the ship nearly three years later. The ship itself was finally righted and towed away for scrap after a massive recovery operation.

Schettino was found guilty of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his passengers.

He had consistently maintained that he was not solely to blame for the wreck and that he had been made a "scapegoat".

The ruling today marked the end of the appeals process, in which prosecutors had pushed for a higher 27-year sentence while Schettino's lawyers asked for the conviction to be overturned.

Schettino's lawyer, Savino Senese, said that his client has gone to Rebibbia prison, in Rome, shortly after learning the sentence.