Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia - No Duty. No Pride. No Wonder.

As many of you know I am an admiralty attorney in addition to being a luxury travel agent.  It may seem strange, but as you will now see, there is a true synergy between the two professions.

I previously stated that I would withhold comment until I knew more of the facts.  I now know more and feel comfortable making some responsible, educated, comments and observations.  Last evening on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum I said the following (slightly edited here):

"There are many reports and, to be sure, there is some truth in most, but total truth in pretty much none.

What I do know is that the Captain did not have authority from Costa to alter the course of the ship (which has made this journey many times). What I also know is that the change of course had to be known and intentional as there are alarm systems which notify (quite persistently) any time a ship strays from its programed course.

I also know, from the industry releases, that the captain was a - get this: a mere Security Officer in 2002 - and became a captain in 2006. This is, to me, outrageous. (Wait till you read my article on Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen, captain of the Seabourn Quest for the World Cruise, which I am about to publish about what a qualified captain's experience is.) Logging time at sea so that you can get your 3,000+ gross ton ticket should never, ever, be enough.

Troubling more is the fact that the captain should have stayed on the ship while rescue operations were underway. I cannot fathom how he left his post...even if he claims all the known passengers were off the ship (which I am not confident was the case).  [Note:  The transcript confirming it was not the case is set forth below.]

Now as to why the ship came in close: Only one time prior - for the Festival of San Lorenzo - had the ship altered its course. But even in that singular instance (so the island could wave to the ship and visa versa) it was nowhere near where the accident happened.  Even if true, one never, ever, responsibly plots a course with no room for error. Essentially shooting the ship between two rock outcrops is inexcusable regardless of whether there was an understanding of clear water being below the ship.  What is to port and starboard matters just as much.

But the thing that really gets me is that it seems pretty clear that watertight doors were left open. If those doors were shut- as required by law and regulations - then a compartment might have flooded, but there is no way the entire ship could. What seems like the arrogant, rule-breaking, manner of the captain filtered down to the engineering crew as well. (Not the first time I have seen this!)"

Today the Port Authority has released the transcripts of the communications with Captain Schettino and, to me they are appalling.  While I am sure Captain Schettino was in shock and panicked, resulting in his unforgivable behavior, the point is that if he was fully and properly trained that training and his experience would have prevented him from acting as he did.  (Just ask anyone in the military how they are trained to react.):

Captain Schettino: It's Capt. Schettino. 

Port Authority: Schettino, listen to me, there are people trapped onboard, now you go back, you will go with your rescue boat under the stern of the ship, there are some steps, you climb those steps and you get onboard and you get back to me letting me know how many people are on board. Is that clear to you? I am actually recording this conversation captain.

[inaudible, captain mumbles] 

PA: Speak in a loud voice. 

Captain: So, the ship right now [inaudible]... 

PA: Speak in a loud voice! Put your hand by the microphone to cover it and speak up! Is that clear?

Voices in the background: "Tell him to come here. Tell him to come here." 

Captain: So, right now the ship is tilted… 

PA: I understand that. Listen to me, there are people that are getting off using the rope ladder on the stern side, you go back there and you go up that ladder the opposite way, you go onboard the ship and you tell me how many people [are there] And what they need. You tell me if there are children, women or people that need assistance and you give me a number for each one of these categories is that clear? Look Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea but will put you through a lot of trouble it will be very bad for you! Get back on board for [expletive]'s sake!!!

Captain: Officer, please. 

PA: There are no "pleases"! Get back on board! Please assure me that you are going back on board.

Captain: I am here on the rescue boat. I'm right here, I didn't go anywhere else, I'm here.

PA: What are you doing captain? 

Captain: I'm here to coordinate rescue operations. 

PA: What are you coordinating? Get back on board and coordinate rescue operations from onboard the ship.

[silence, sound cuts out] 

PA: Do you refuse to do that? 

Captain: No, I'm not refusing to do that. 

PA: Are you refusing to back on board? 

Captain: No, I am not refusing to go back. I am not going because the other rescue boat stopped.

PA: Get back on board! This is an order! You don't need to make any other assessment. You have declared that you have abandoned ship, therefore I'm in command. Get back on board right now is that clear?

Captain: Officer… 

PA: Can you not hear me? 

Captain: I'm getting back on board. 

PA: Then go! And call me right away when you are on board. There's my rescuer there.

Captain: Where is your rescuer? 

PA: My rescuer is on the stern side, go! There are already bodies, Schettino! Go!

Captain: Officer how many bodies are there? 

PA: I don't know. I know about one… I've heard about one, but you must tell me! [expletive]!

Captain: Do you realize it's dark out here and we can't see anything? 

PA: What do you want to do ? Do you want to go home? It's dark so you want to go home? Get on the stern of that ship climb the ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people are there and what they need. Right now!

Captain: I'm here with my second officer. [Schettino identifies second officer.] 

PA: You and your second officer must get back on board right now is that clear? 

Captain: I just wanted to tell you that the other rescue boat here with other rescuers stopped. It's just stopped. Now I've called the other rescuers.

PA: You've been telling me the same thing for an hour now get back on board! On board! And you get back to me right away telling me how many people are there.

Captain: It's fine officer, I'm going.

PA: Then go, right now!

There are still more questions than answers, but one thing I am very, very, confident of:  Nothing like this will happen again.  With six souls confirmed dead, 29 still missing and probably somewhere around US$1,000,000,000 - not all Carnival Corp.'s - in damages, liability claims, lost revenues from the ship and lost sales, (yes, economies play a significant role) there will be some significant changes...on some ships (as the vast majority of cruise ships fortunately are run in a safe, conservative, manner they do not need them)...to assure such things never happen again.