Francesco Schettino, the 52-year-old captain of the cruise liner Costa Concordia, began his pretrial hearing last week in the small Tuscan city of Grosseto.
The Costa Concordia capsized on the evening of Friday January 13th after hitting barely submerged rocks close to the tiny island of Giglio 10 miles off the Tuscan coast. Thirty-two of the 4,229 passengers and crew onboard died. Captain Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck, and abandoning ship.
The Italian skipper had ordered his helmsman to steer the floating citadel close to the island “per fare l’inchino” (to take a bow) to the daughter of the headwaiter in the à la carte restaurant who lives on the island. He had then left the bridge to go to dinner with a blonde dancer from Moldova who is not his wife. After dinner, he returned to the bridge, female guest in tow, in time to take command of the vessel himself for the “inchino.”
Once disaster struck, Captain Schettino did not send a Mayday message for 45 minutes. Then, in true Italian style, he abandoned ship while there were several hundred people still onboard. His crew, the Italians among them at least, shoved passengers out of their way in the scrabble for the lifeboats.
He then blamed the disaster on everyone except himself and claimed that had it not been for his skill, thousands of lives would have been lost. In his hometown of Meta di Sorrento in the corrupt and Mafia-infested south, he enjoys the status of a wronged and wounded hero.
The week before his first court hearing began in a theater because the courthouse in Grosseto is too small to accommodate the scrum of journalists and survivors, he even launched a lawsuit against his employers. He is—wait for it—claiming wrongful dismissal and back pay.
The prosecution told the court that Schettino could not take credit for the loss of so few lives. Schettino, who arrived at court wearing sunglasses and looking like an actor from The Sopranos, retorted that God had nothing to do with it: “Ma quale volontà di Dio? Meglio di lui ho fatto io.” (What will of God? I did better than him.)
In my view, Captain Schettino, dubbed “Captain Coward,” is not getting a fair hearing. It remains unclear exactly whose fault it was that the Costa Concordia struck those rocks. Given the sophisticated technology at their disposal, why did no one on the bridge realize that those rocks were there?
Captain Schettino says that it was thanks to his skill and what he did after the impact that the lives of nearly all those onboard were saved.
After the Costa Concordia hit those rocks, she remained afloat for around an hour before coming to rest on the seafloor just yards off the coast, less than a mile further on from the rocks she had hit.
It was only then, once the ship had beached, that Captain Schettino gave the order to abandon ship. And it was only then that the ship eventually capsized on her port side. Within 40 minutes of beaching however, all but 300 passengers and crew had been safely evacuated.
At the time of the disaster, an excellent shipping news Internet site—gcaptain.com—did a simulated reconstruction of what had happened based on the AIS data (Automatic Identification System)—the automatic open-channel tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services to identify and locate vessels.
According to this reconstruction, eleven minutes after the impact with rocks, the Costa Concordia came to a halt 500 meters off the coast with her bow pointing away from the island.
It took her 59 minutes to turn around and head back toward the island. She beached on the seafloor only 50 meters from land. If stationary and without power, how did she manage to turn around and nearly get to shore?
On the gcaptain site, the shipping experts said that the only way Captain Schettino could have done such a thing was by using the Costa Concordia’s three bow thrusters, which do not depend on the main engine room for power.
Photographs of the stricken Costa Concordia taken at the time by survivors from the shore clearly show that she capsized only after she had beached, and slowly at that. They show that the ship beached more or less upright and only then began to tilt. They also show that the ship began to tilt only after the lifeboats and life rafts had been launched—not before. And they show these life vessels in the dead-calm sea with people in them.
The charge is that Captain Schettino should have given the order to abandon ship far sooner, when the ship was well out to sea. Sure, he could have done that as soon as the ship had come to a halt. But the ship was afloat and not in danger of immediately capsizing. What caused the ship to capsize—but only slowly and after the life vessels had been launched—was the impact when she beached.
Captain Schettino abandoned ship before the last passengers had done so. But under international law, a captain does not necessarily have to be the last person to abandon ship. What counts is not where a captain is but what a captain does.
If the trial reveals that the will of God caused the Costa Concordia to drift back to shore rather than Captain Schettino’s bow thrusters, I am perfectly willing to eat my hat.
Copyright 2013 TakiMag.com and the author. This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order reprints for distribution by contacting us at email@example.com.