WWYD – I’m going down…to the lifeboats

This post should actually be titled, “What NOT to do when your boat is sinking,” as a litany of unanswered questions continue to flood in about the Costa Concordia and what actually happened that dreadful night a week ago. Reports of at least 21 people still missing and 11 confirmed dead of the 4,200 passengers and crew of the Concordia who set sail around Italy where it struck a reef near the island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast.

Much (if not all) of the blame now rests on the shoulders of the ships Captain, Francesco Schettino. I’m not a wizened old mariner so I’m not very familiar with maritime laws be they national or international. Most of my information as it pertains to captains and their vessels are from (sigh) books and movies. From every single seafaring tale I’ve enjoyed over the years I find that it’s hard for most captains to part with their beloved ship. Not the case for Captain Schettino who now has more than just a few people wondering ‘What were you thinking?’

Captain Ahab was willing to go down with his ship but I think his crew would have been happy to see that happen considering the fact that he took them on a wild ride across the seven seas to bag a big whale. Have you ever watched The Perfect Storm? George Clooney still makes movies today but Captain Billy Tyne and his crew went down with the Andrea Gail in real life. And who can forget Captain Edward J. Smith of the Titanic? Even with all of the chaos surrounding that notorious sailing, Captain Smith was one of the more than 2,200 who perished when that famous ship sank. For pete’s sake Han Solo and Captain Kirk would have gone down with their ships for the good of mankind. Obviously, Captain Schettino did not find any of the same motivation from those tales as I did…but then again, I’m not, nor will I ever be asked to captain a vessel. I can’t even keep a catamaran afloat.

As is often the case in tragedies such as this, I think there are some life lessons to be learned. From the behavior of the captain, the actions of the crew, the bravery of its passengers and emergency personnel who responded to the distress calls.

Even with a number of first-hand accounts from those who experienced the tragedy, we will never know what crossed Schettino’s mind as the vessel began to list and passengers and crew began to abandon ship.

So far on the list of “Things to Avoid When Captaining a Ship” –

  • Don’t forget who’s in charge – According to people on board the Concordia, when it became apparent that something was very wrong, none of the crew seemed to know what to do. Worse, there was absolutely no one that the passengers could go to as a leader. Ever find that this is sometimes true on the job? In your home? It is infuriating for those who are looking for leadership to find that the post has been abandoned and no one wants to step up and take the mantle. WWYD in this situation?
  • Don’t trip on your way out – When asked why he had boarded a lifeboat before evacuation was complete, Schettino’s reply would be somewhat comical if it had been an I Love Lucy episode. But he was responsible for all of the lives on that boat and he supposedly “tripped” into a lifeboat. Have you ever been in a situation where you had two choices and both of them came with a moral dilemma? Have you ever been faced with a decision that comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils? On the surface Schettino seems to be a man who put himself before others, rather than put his life on the line in the face of dire consequences. What if tripping into that boat had cost one of those eleven people to perish on the ship? WWYD in this situation?
  • Don’t keep your dinner date – Another unnerving detailed has surfaced from the final moments of the Concordia that will anger passengers and their families even more. A photo and an account from a crew member clearly show Schettino dining with a female passenger within an hour of hitting the reef. Nonchalant? Cavalier? Arrogant? All of the above? Clearly there was something amiss and yet the captain, if the reports are true, decided to keep his dinner date rather than begin emergency evacuation of the ship. Have you ever complicated a problem simply by trying to avoid the inevitable? Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Time will heal all wounds’ but you never did anything to stop the hemorrhaging to begin with? WWYD in this situation?

Again, even though my tone in this post is reproving I really think that the facts need to be sorted out and Schettino needs to be forthcoming with the events of that night. But if the tape recordings of his conversation with emergency crews and harbor officials show how the captain brazenly ignored the signs and fled the disaster it is an indication of his indifference led to the demise of innocent lives and he should be held accountable.

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