Last week, technical experts working on the salvage operations for the wreck of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy recommended that the underwater portion of the operation be called off, as conditions shipboard become evermore dangerous. As the dust settles, people are looking for answers as to what exactly happened on the night of January 13, and, more importantly, trying to determine who is at fault for the disaster that caused the deaths of some 17 people.
More and more people are looking at Captain Francesco Schettino, the man at the helm of the cruise ship when it ran aground on a small island just off the coast of Italy’s Port Giglio. One survivor, a crew member on the Costa Concordia, was on the bridge when the ship struck the rocks. “Schettino ‘committed a tragic error‘,” stated the survivor, who was found with a broken leg in a half-flooded dining room.
BBC News did a brief profile on the man at the center of the controversy. Born in a small coastal town in Italy, Schettino spent much of his life around the sea. He attended a nautical institute in another coastal town near the southern city of Naples. The 52-year-old Schettino joined Costa Cruises in 2002 as a security official, and worked his way up the ranks, eventually being appointed Captain in 2006.
Captain Schettino is currently under arrest, facing potential charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship. While the Captain denies these charges, the evidence seems to be mounting against him. On the night of the disaster, Schettino is believed to have changed the preplanned course, without the knowledge or permission of Costa Cruises. For reasons yet unknown, Schettino steered the Costa Concordia dangerously close to the island of Giglio. As the same surviving crew member states, “Maybe he was too confident in his skills, and he relied too much on his knowledge of the ship”.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence against Schettino is the radio recording of the conversation between Captain Schettino and Captain Gregorio de Falco of the Italian Coast Guard. The transcript of this recording can be found here. Throughout the conversation, de Falco continually commands Schettino to return to the Costa Concordia and aid with evactuation and rescue operations onboard. Schettino never outright refuses to return to the ship, however, he makes excuses and fails to follow orders, saying, “You realize it’s dark and here we can’t see anything…”.
Not everyone is blaming Schettino entirely, however. Some sailors have come to Schettino’s defense, stating that his decision to steer the ship towards port after the collision most likely saved many lives. Whether or not Captain Schettino is to blame for the disaster remains to be determined. Whatever the answers may be, the Captain clearly has a lot of questions to answer. Hopefully in time, the truth can be determined and the wounds caused by this maritime disaster can begin to heal.