Friday, February 24, 2012

Costa Concordia: Amid Continuing Environmental Concerns The Captain Is Charged With More

Posted by Peter Quennell

The death toll has now risen to 25 including one child, a little girl. Maybe 10 are still unaccounted for.

The ship turns out to be balancing precariously on two small castles of rock at its front and back ends and they now seem to be decomposing under the ship’s colossal weight.

Whether the fuel oil can be removed from the ship before it disappears into deeper waters in a very fragile marine environment now seems anyone’s guess. Technically the engineers seem to be doing all they can.

The Genoa-based Carnival subsidiary seems to have closed ranks again as its own top management behavior comes under investigation. Nick Squires of the Daily Telegraph has just reported this from a session of the Grosseto court.

Prosecutors allege that the captain’s negligence and misconduct were compounded by errors made by senior officials from Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the ship.

They have broadened their investigation to include three Costa Cruises employees, including Manfred Ursprunger, the vice-president, and Roberto Ferrarini, the head of the company’s crisis management unit.

He was in regular contact with the skipper on the night of the disaster but prosecutors accuse him of being “culpably unaware of the real situation on board the ship” and of falling to verify the information provided by Capt Schettino.

Nick Squires also reports that Captain Schettino’s legal prospects have now worsened.

On Thursday, prosecutors lodged two new charges against the captain, accusing him of abandoning incapacitated passengers and failing to inform the coast guard in Livorno, on the mainland, of what was happening on the ship.

He was already charged with abandoning ship, causing a disaster and multiple counts of manslaughter and is under house arrest at his home near Sorrento, south of Naples.

Nick Squires also reports on how the ship was slowed down to allow the captain and his lady friend to finish their meal. Then it was speeded up to awe someone in Giglio, and a big crowd on the ship’s bridge.


A pattern of investigation and court process familiar to us by now and again we are seeing no red flags.

Giglio is in the Tuscany region and Grosetto is the local district capital. The 20 Italian regions seem about as autonomous as US states. They retain only about 20% of their tax revenue directly but some central Rome spending passes back through the regional bodies.

Almost everybody in the bureaucracies including the justice systems is a career civil servant and competent and experienced at what they do.

One big difference between the US and, well, almost everywhere which I think adds a lot of heat to US politics and cynicism to the US electorate is the huge layer of political appointees.

In any one state the layer of politicians who must run for office at federal, state and local level seems reasonable and at local level (mayors etc) most politicians dont get paid. Some sheriffs and district attorneys and judges are elected (Judge Heavey) and some are not. 

But top political leaders have powers to appoint cronies to staff posts and these number up in the hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions.

President Obama appointed something like 14,000. Having dealt with a lot of them I’d say they are mostly helpful responsive people but it makes everything in the US very short-term and they can often be wincingly under-informed and naive and sometimes meddlesome.  The American Ambassador in Rome is an Obama political appointee.

This can be depressing and discouraging to the professional layers underneath them and together with right-wing government demonization begun by Reagan can make being a civil servant a lousy career. And this quasi-amateur system, which you dont find in Europe, is not very results oriented and a very big cost to the taxpayer.

Also it drains resources from healthcare and education and direct support for economic development and costs maybe 2 percent in lost growth. But politicians generally do love it as patronage explains a lot of why they run for office.

Austerity in the US should best consist of cutting useless horizontal layers out (most of those political appointees) but instead what we see are vertical cuts (useful programs).

I dont know if anyone else can see how absurd this is? It is seriously absurd.

A pity the right-wings Rush Limbaugh talking heads get Americans mad at all the wrong things. There are things we all have in common that we should all be mad about.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/25/12 at 02:57 PM | #


Your comparison between the layer upon layer of political appointees (“hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions”) in the US Bureaucracy, in which “top political leaders have powers to appoint cronies to staff posts, and “well, almost everywhere”, including Italy, where “Almost everybody in the bureaucracies including the justice systems is a career civil servant and competent and experienced at what they do” is most apt.

We can see how absurd this is, and it is seriously absurd!

Posted by Cardiol MD on 02/25/12 at 07:42 PM | #

Every coin has two sides.

If you can’t get your own man into key position, how you are going to deal with the mad crowds? How you will be sure that you will not be back stabbed at the key moment?

On the other hand,these people know that the sun does not shine all their life. They need to take care of themselves when the winter comes.

As you have rightly mentioned, “maybe even millions” have had their day while the sun shone. So everybody had a fair (well, almost fair) chance (or share) of the cake (should I say pudding)? It is certainly not terribly unfair (nobody is complaining!) unless your share is taken away by someone else!

Education and healthcare will remain our top priorities for the next century. We shall make sure that it stays that way!

Most of the career diplomats have spent a considerable time and effort in preparing their biodata. They need to be rehabilitated somewhere and somehow. They are potentially dangerous at home!

When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder.—James H. Boren

Posted by chami on 02/25/12 at 10:26 PM | #

Hi Cardiol. Yes I know you have seen the same things close up i n a way which allows you to make comparisons.

The US in particular has been reluctant to accept that others have mastered part of the puzzle, but is now becoming more watchful - the last time this happened was over 20 years ago when Japanese success seemed endless and Michael Crichton wrote the scary runaway bestseller “Rising Sun”.

That led to the very healthy “quality movement” and the opening of a lot of eyes to the fact that what creates all results is good systems put in place by innovative people.

There are some good preconditions now for good change. The rewards from growth should not all be going to billionaires because any way you look at it they contribute very little. And the larger the accretions of money the more risk-averse and anti-innovation they become.

Also (as Microsoft did) big enterprises create scorched earth all around them and no innovation occurs there. Never allow too much money in too few hands, and never allow winner-take-all enterpises. Occupy Wall Street does have something wise to say.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/26/12 at 01:43 PM | #

Hi Chami. Yes, well, I agree that nobody elected or appointed is complaining as they experience the receiving end of the tidal wave of money for influence!

But seemingly everybody else now is complaining and in many countries including yours there are demonstrations and even sometimes riots against corruption, austerity, and now fat cats.

It is even dawning on some fat cats (there are quite a few left wingers on Wall Street and we hear periodically from Warren Buffet and Bill Gates) that fighting over a shrinking pie aint so smart and the creativity of all of us is needed to grow the whole of the pie. In the US and Europe and Japan this last has been a lost decade.

We know Meredith was intent on heading into the heart of this in her career. I’ve just heard that John Kercher’s book “Meredith” due out soon is quite incredible, maybe one of the finest biographies of a young person ever written.

I wonder what was driving Meredith at her core, and it should be possible from John’s book to figure this out. Women excel at change-process management (more than men) and we know that Meredith had a charismatic and integrative personality.

I think she was trying to help Knox to integrate as everybody else she knew in Perugia was backing off her, but the process should have started years before and probably have involved some therapy to overcome childhood trauma.

I look forward to the day when DNA re-engineering can repair faulty hard wiring caused by trauma and addiction. You think that will happen? It could be a lot cheaper than prisons which are kind of a sledgehammer approach.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/26/12 at 01:51 PM | #


I wrote in half jest! I think all of you got the idea.

Well, if they cannot take care of themselves, how they are going to take care of the nation?

The greatness of the US comes also in the form of “Occupy Wall St” and the “copyleft” movements. These are the peoples’ movement, after all.

Sorry to say that perhaps it will never be possible to repair “faulty hard wiring” in the brain: just like we can never have a software that can prevent all present and future computer viruses.

As you rightly mention (I also think similarly) that perhaps some trauma or abuse (at younger age) caused Knox to lose her own self respect (that also means self esteem) and respect for others. She is aware of this and this is also the cause that drove her to study abroad. But she lost her self control on the way, somewhere, somehow.

Unless they realise themselves, it is usually very difficult to help such people.

With listening comes wisdom, with speaking repentance.

Posted by chami on 02/26/12 at 05:32 PM | #

Regarding this statement:

“Italy, where “Almost everybody in the bureaucracies including the justice systems is a career civil servant and competent and experienced at what they do”  - ???  Not so sure about that broad sweeping characterization.

My own experience with ‘career civil servants’ in Europe are that many of them are unmotivated, over-paid and underworked.  They receive large guaranteed large pensions and a huge number of days off per year.  I won’t say that career civil servants in the USA are any better though.  I think anytime the government pays your salary for a long time and you are not subject to getting fired for underperformance there will be people who do not put forth their best efforts, unless you happen to have a high degree of internal integrity.  There are plenty of fat cats in European countries too, such as France’s Arnault as you can see in this gallery of billionaires in the world, as well as several Germans and a few other Europeans.

At least Gates and Buffett are giving most of their money to Bill Gates’ charitable foundation.

I personally don’t see how AK was traumatized or abused.  She seemed to have a pretty normal childhood despite her biological father’s non-payment of child support and her mother struggling to support a family on a low-paying teaching job.  Nothing out of the ordinary in America these days.  It’s never been shown that she was sexually or physically abused or anything like that.  So I don’t really see where her childhood led to her participating in a murder.  There is just something kind of disconnected and self-centered about the way she talks and acts as was described by her roommates, Meredith’s friends, and in the guard and cellmate’s interviews.

To me her case falls apart if they find her guilty of lying about the police abuse, because then it would prove that she did not accuse Lumumba under duress.  I’m waiting to see what happens next.  Sometimes people do things which are inexplicable and no one can believe it.  I mean even Guede does not seem like the kind of guy to murder or hurt anyone, even with all his flaws.

Posted by believing on 02/29/12 at 05:46 AM | #

This week both houses of Congress in Washington DC are starting new hearings on cruise ship safety with a focus on what captains have responsibility for.

Meanwhile Carnival and the cruise ship industry in general seem to be having quite a run of bad luck or bad judgement.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/29/12 at 05:06 PM | #

Hi Believing.

My experience of governments both in the US and in Europe (and the UN) is typically from the inside and I seem to have observed little or none of what you describe in career civil servants. Disclosure! I was a UN career civil servant with a permanent contract until I bought my way out - but it was because of the political meddling by the amateur appointee layer, the real point of my comment on which you comment, which was undermining the possibility of real results which all of us career staff wanted. I concluded I could achieve more in my own area (growth) from the outside.

Same thing is happening in American government. In Europe, much less-so. Most are not that well paid, their vacations are no longer than much of private industry, and they educate themselves well and keep educating - attend any professional conferences and you will see. They are eager participants in meetings of UN bodies and development programs, and to anything that makes sense they mostly give their all. They always impressed me.

It is incorrect that Knox’s father’s non-payment of child support was nothing out of the ordinary. We know of no case where it was so persistent, where it was so rage driven, where it went on for so long, where the father could so easily afford to pay, or where it had to be taken to court so often. Several of our psychologists think that very heavy rejection is a precise formula for in part losing touch with reality. Remember Knox has been tested (in Capanne in 2008) and the tests then suggested all was not well. That could have been used as a mitigating factor but it might have drawn attention to how it might have been caused.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 03/01/12 at 02:08 PM | #
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