Cruise Ship Captain Allegedly Abandoned Rescue and Refused to Return to Ship

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Photo: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Incredible details have emerged about the frantic conversation between Costa Concordia cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino and Italian Coast Guards as the wreck carrying 4,200 passengers and crew capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. The disaster has claimed at least eleven lives and left 28 still missing. The cruise company has pinned the blame on the captain, whose ill decision to steer the vessel within 150 yards of an Italian shore caused it to get shredded by rock. But the reported exchanges after the ship went down reveal the captain's gutlessness, how his inaction probably worsened matters, and the depth of his culpability.

From the Telegraph:

It emerged on Tuesday that Italian port officials were aghast when Capt Francesco Schettino, 52, told them that he was trying to coordinate the operation from the safety of a life boat.

“What do you want to do, go home?” one official asked him, according to transcripts of the increasingly frantic exchanges between port authorities and the captain, who allegedly refused a direct order to return to the ship and take charge.

The transcripts reveal the mounting anger and frustration of port and Coast Guard officials as they began to realise the full extent of the disaster, despite the commander’s repeated insistence that the situation on board was “all OK”.

When officials told the captain that there were reports of bodies in the water, the commander allegedly asked: “How many?”.

A furious official in Porto Santo Stefano, on the Tuscan mainland, replied: “That’s for you to tell me!”

And later:

In another tense exchange at 1.46am a Coast Guard official told Capt Schettino: “Go to the bow, climb up the emergency ladder and co-ordinate the evacuation.” “You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers there are and the exact number of each category. Go back on board. What are you doing, abandoning the rescue?”

Reuters provides an expanded version of one Coast Guard's words at this time: "Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Damn it, go back on board!"  The captain finally acceded, saying, “OK, I’m going.” But according to the Telegraph, officials believe he did not return to the ship, having arrived on dry land, on a life boat, shortly thereafter.

Other transcripts suggest that junior officers and crew members, realizing the the gravity of the situation, ordered the ship's evacuation before the captain finally did so, 70 minutes after the ship hit rock.

Schettino is being held on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck by sailing too close to shore, and abandoning ship before all his passengers and crew scrambled off.

Costa Concordia did confirm that it permitted its captains to sail within 500 yards of the island to “bow” to inhabitants in the past, but put the blame squarely on Schettino, who took the ship far too close to the shore. Investigators say the wreck occurred within 150 meters of shore, according to Reuters.

Schettino's lawyer says that the captain should be credited with saving "hundreds, if not thousands" of lives because he brought the ship close to shore after it hit a rock. Good luck getting that glory.