The Costa Concordia captain abandoned ship while passengers were still on board and refused to return, according to transcripts of radio and telephone calls with Italian coastguards. After the cruise ship, carrying over 4,200 passengers and crew, hit rocks near the island of Giglio, coastguard Gregorio De Falco repeatedly ordered Captain Francesco Schettino to go back to the ship to help with the evacuation. “You get on board. This is an order. You need to continue the rescue,” said De Falco, according to The Telegraph; the captain, apparently in a lifeboat, declined on the grounds that it was dark, another boat was blocking his path and he was already co-ordinating the rescue efforts.
The captain’s behavior has already drawn widespread condemnation, including allegations that Schettino had caused the accident by sailing too close to the coast in order to greet the inhabitants of Giglio. The captain has insisted he did not abandon ship and was responsible for saving passengers’ lives. But with the official death toll of the Costa Concordia disaster rising to 11, the latest revelations have drawn greater fire on Schettino.
‘There are already corpses, Schettino.’ Nick Squires provided a translation of the “increasingly frantic exchange” between Schettino and De Falco in The Telegraph, in which the coastguard told the captain that there had already been fatalities and that people were trapped on the ship. When ordered to return to the ship and assess the remaining passengers early in the exchange, Schettino responded: “But you are aware it is dark and we can’t see anything?” This drew an apparently angry reaction from the coastguard. “What do you want? To go back home, Schettino? It’s dark and you want to go back home? Get on the bow of the ship and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what do they need,” said De Falco.
Listen to the recording of the exchange between Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino and coastguard Gregorio De Falco, in Italian with English subtitles.
Two different reactions. “The recordings reveal a man apparently out of control, incapable of displaying the kind of decisiveness needed from a ship’s captain in ordinary circumstances, let alone a disaster such as this,” wrote John Hooper in The Guardian. However, Hooper also pointed out that Schettino’s immediate reaction to the collision was entirely different from his behavior on the recordings: “He skillfully turned the liner around and brought it to rest on the rocks of a headland so as to make a rescue operation easier. The cool way in which he appears to have handled the initial emergency is hard to square with his subsequent conduct.” Hooper reported that a Facebook group supporting the Concordia captain has attracted 2,600 fans.
“I want to get on board the ship but the other lifeboat has stopped its engine and it is drifting and I called other rescuers,” Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino told the Italian coastguard in the aftermath of the collision, reported The Telegraph.
Abandoning ship: A crime? Writing for Slate, Brian Palmer explored the laws surrounding abandoning ship: “The captain has no obligation to go down with the ship, and he or she doesn’t have to be the last person to step into a lifeboat.” Nevertheless, Schettino may still have failed to fulfill his duty to passengers, said Palmer: “The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires the captain to exercise his professional judgment to protect passenger safety, and most maritime experts would agree that presence on the ship is a prerequisite for to fulfilling that obligation.”
“Look, Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit!” Italian coastguard Gregorio De Falco told the Costa Concordia captain, according to The Telegraph.
Lessons to be learnt. “If the captain and crew of the cruise ship Costa Concordia messed up only half as badly as passengers and authorities say, they’d still be a disastrously inept and uncaring bunch,” said a Los Angeles Times editorial. But the editorial also pointed out that “most maritime disasters aren’t the result of a single mistake or stroke of bad luck”; the Concordia investigation needs to look beyond the captain and crew to determine whether parent company Carnival and the Italian authorities also fulfilled their responsibilities.
Rescue difficulties. The rescue mission to find the remaining passengers and crew has been temporarily suspended as the ship has shifted position. Writing for The Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau said that rescuers are facing a race against time, as stormy weather is predicted, which could dislodge or break up the ship. This also raises the possibility of an environmental disaster: if the ship is badly damaged, 500,000 gallons of fuel could flow out into the sea, said Nadeau.