Captain Francesco Schettino has blamed the Costa Concordia's helmsman for the disaster that killed 32 people in January 2012, and said he was not responsible.

Schettino, dubbed 'Captain Coward' in the Italian media, appeared before a court in Grosseto, Tuscany, facing charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

The 53-year-old told judges the cruise liner wouldn't have crashed if Jacob Rusli Bin, the Indonesian helmsman, had followed his orders.

"In my experience, there wouldn't have been the crash." Schettino said.

"If it weren't for the helmsman's error, to not position the tiller to the left ... the swerve [toward the reef] and the collision wouldn't have happened," Schettino contended.

According to prosecutors, Schettino steered the Costa Concordia too close to the coast in the hope of performing a sail-past salute to the inhabitants of Giglio Island off the Tuscan coast. The liner eventually crashed into a reef, took on water and capsized.

The captain and his legal team contend that, due to language difficulties, Rusli Bin did not understand Schettino's order to steer left, as the captain realised the ship was too close to shore.

Rusli Bin mistakenly turned right instead. The order was allegedly given just seconds before the crash.

"It wasn't for this, the ship would have passed by without any problem," Schettino's lawyer Francesco Pepe told Italian SkyTg24 television.

The court's maritime expert confirmed Rusli Bin made the mistake, but said the ship would have crashed regardless.

"The helmsman was 13 seconds late in executing the manoeuvre, but the crash would have happened anyway," Italian Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone told the court.

Rusli Bin is one of five Costa Crociere employees who were granted plea bargains in return for mild sentences in a separate proceeding.

Schettino is the sole defendant on trial and denies the charges.

His defence team maintains the captain is being made a scapegoat and actually saved lives by manoeuvring the ship closer to the island's shores, and no single person is to blame for hitting the rock.

Lawyers for Schettino also demanded the court order a new inspection of the crippled luxury liner, now that it has been set upright, to determine whether mechanical failures precipitated the tragedy.

Schettino, who recently had his mariner's licence suspended, faces up to 20 years in prison.