To hear my spy novel writing partner, Holmes, tell it, I have spent the past few days in Italy teaching the maritime safety class, Don’t Put the Big Floating Thing In the Rocks. I’m happy to report that only one bozo in the whole of Italy actually needed the class. Unfortunately, I was too late.
The details of the wreck of the Costa Concordia are sordid, and that’s without even mentioning the fact that it’s captain, a man named Schettino, was busy dining with a young lady (not his wife) for another hour after the big floating thing hit the rocks.
Since Holmes is a man who has spent a bit of time on ships now and again, I will turn the blog over to him to apply a serious CyberSmack to this modern-day Nero.
One of the more outrageous pieces of recent news from Europe has been the crash of the cruise liner, Costa Concordia, on the rocks at Giglio, Italy. The grounding of the ship has thus far lead to 16 confirmed dead and 16 missing passengers.
Any maritime disaster that leads to dead passengers and crew is sad news, and sadder still if they happen to be your loved ones. This accident is also infuriating, though, because it easily could have, and absolutely should have, been avoided.
At approximately 9:35 p.m. (Italian time) on January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia, loaded with 4200 passengers and crew, was cruising past the island of Giglio off the coast of Italy. In order to impress the island’s residents, Captain Francesco Schettino committed his first of many crimes by ordering a course change to steer the ship close to land as a sort of “hot dogging” maneuver.
No normal merchant captain in Italy or in any respected maritime service would take such a risk. A cruise liner makes as few unscheduled course deviations as possible and never makes a close approach to rocky coastlines. Captain Schettino is clearly not a normal member of the Italian maritime community.
Out of respect for the many legitimate, honorable members of the Italian maritime community, I will refrain from calling Schettino “captain” for the rest of this article. I will instead refer to him by the more suitable title of “Bozo Schettino.” I wanted to grant him the title of “Pagliaccio Schettino,” but the Italian Clowns Union threatened me with a libel suit.
At 9:40 p.m., the ship struck rocks and was badly holed. Bozo Schettino then proceeded to commit his second major crime of the day. After becoming aware of the serious damage, he lied to his own crew and passengers, telling them that there was a temporary problem with the electrical system.
Crime number three followed. He failed to give the order to evacuate the passengers to the life boats.
Outrageous? Absolutely. But Schettino was by no means done for the night. Moments later, he committed his fourth major crime of the day. He lied to the Italian Coast Guard about the condition of the ship. As a result, the well-trained and highly capable Italian Coast Guard was now hampered in any rescue mission because, thanks to Bozo Schettino, they believed that no rescue mission was needed.
As the stricken ship took on water, she began to list to starboard. The more a cruise ship lists, the more difficult it is for ill or aged passengers to walk the passageways or climb stairs. Once a cruise ship reaches a list of 40 degrees, it becomes very difficult to man-launch lifeboats.
The cruise ship was perched on the edge of an underwater cliff. If it slipped, it would be at risk for sinking to a deeper bottom or capsizing and trapping anyone on board.
As the ship’s list increased, most of the rest of the crew decided to mutiny against the captain and begin an evacuation of the ship. Mutiny is called for in rare cases. This is one of those rare cases when failure to mutiny would have been dishonorable. Thanks to the mutinous crew, the evacuation was belatedly begun. Unfortunately, the majority of the lifeboats could not be lowered because the ship’s list had increased too much.
Having created and then badly exacerbated a ship wreck, Bozo Schettino then committed his fifth major crime of the day. He decided that perhaps his crew was right about evacuating, and he left the ship while over 300 passengers remained on board. He claimed he and all of his officers fell from the deck and were coordinating the evacuation from a lifeboat. I’m not making that up. It really is one of those rare occasions when life is more outrageous than a joke I would make with Piper.
Normally, a cruise ship captain would not leave the ship until his executive officer reported to him that a thorough, systematic search had concluded that all passengers had been evacuated. The captain would then give the abandon ship order to the crew, and he would be the last member of the crew to leave.
An Italian Coast Guard rescue vessel showed up and quickly realized that they had been lied to. They made phone contact with Bozo Schettino, sitting safely in his lifeboat, and ordered him to return on board and conclude the evacuation of passengers. Piper has included another conversation with Commander Gregorio De Falco of the Livornia. I encourage you to listen to it to get a feel for how outrageous Schettino’s behavior and attitude was that night.
After that night, Schettino continued to make insulting statements. One of his gems was, “That rock should not have been there.” What? The passengers lost their lives because of a badly behaving rock? That one didn’t fly too well with the Italian maritime community or with the general public in Italy. Most Italians might not be trained sailors, but they know that large rocks don’t throw themselves in front of cruise ships.
Bozo Schettino decided that in his tired state, he could not be expected to deliver all of the outrageous quotes on his own, so he hired a willing mouthpiece. Italian lawyer Bruno Leporati has been explaining to Italy that Bozo Schettino is a hero because, “…by beaching the ship in shallow water, he saved thousands of lives.” This is, of course, utter nonsense. The better way to save ALL the lives on board was to not ground the vessel on rocks.
I feel sad that, on behalf of the honorable Italian maritime community and the families of the dead passengers, we cannot deliver more than a Cyber Smack to Bozo Schettino. But fortunately for the Italian public, he’s by no means off of any hook yet. There is, in fact, a silver lining to this story.
After living through eight demoralizing years of the corrupt and despicable Berlusconi regime, there are clear signs for optimism in that the Italian Coast Guard acted professionally, and the general public has responded with outrage toward Schettino. For example, an Italian journalist reported that the new national pastime in Italy is inventing new ways for Schettino to die. This is healthy.
The Berlusconis and Schettinos of the world are capable of laughing off the deaths of possibly 32 passengers, along with the loss of a valuable ship in a suffering economy. It’s plain to see, though, that the vast majority of the Italian people are not anything like the Schettinos or Berlusconis of the world.
The behavior of the captain of the Costa Concordia brought unwelcome news to the demoralized Italian people, but I encourage them to recognize that their own nearly universal outrage is proof that Italians are taking back their country, and that they deserve and can have a better future. The Schettinos and Berlusconnis of Italy won’t likely win this one.