Thursday, January 19, 2012

Italy Hails An Unlikely Hero Who Tried To Talk The Captain Back On The Ship He Abandoned

Posted by Peter Quennell

You probably already know the broad outline of this story.

Last Friday the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia ran onto some rocks by an island off the west coast of Italy and it semi-capsized. Some 35 passengers are declared dead or missing, the ship could slide further or sink any time, and the fuel-oil is all still on board.

This video is the BBC’s translation of the coastguard captain Gregorio De Falco (left below) trying to talk the cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino (right below) out of a lifeboat and back on board his ship to facilitate the rescue of the 4,000 passengers and crew.

Captain De Falco is not mincing any words. It seems that Italians cannot get enough of that stern talk. The tape is being played again and again on Italian radio and TV with Captain De Falco being likened to various great Italian leaders of the past - and Captain Schettino to the vain and ultimately disastrous Mr Berlusconi.

This report is from American National Public Radio.

“You’ve abandoned ship! I’m in charge now,” De Falco rages at Schettino, who was apparently in a rowboat at this time. “Go back and report to me how many passengers [are still onboard] and what they need. ... Perhaps you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for this, dammit!”

Schettino can be heard trying to refuse the order. “You don’t understand, it’s dark here. Can’t see anything,” he says.  “What is it, you want to go home Schettino?” De Falco spits out. “It’s dark and you want to go home?”  Eventually De Falco demands: “Go back onboard, dammit!”

De Falco’s Italian expletive is actually much harsher than “dammit” “” but the line [“Torni a bordo, cazzo!”] has become a national catchphrase, and is Italy’s top trending hashtag or keyword on Twitter.

Minutes after that audio was posted online, Italians had a new hero.  Within hours, a Facebook page created in De Falco’s name had 10,000 friends. By Wednesday morning, his words were a national slogan, with T-shirts being sold online with the words, “Go back onboard, dammit.”...

One tweet from a woman named Sofia Rosada said, “It’s men like De Falco who should be governing, instead we are full of men like Schettino.”

The governing politicians dithered and looked after their own main chance for far too long. But the various stories we have followed on this site have thrown up at professional levels a number of unlikely and unsung heroes.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/19/12 at 04:06 AM in The legal followupsThe wider contextsItalian context


Just a reminder how arrogant we still are!

Just a reminder how little we have learnt from the past!

Posted by chami on 01/19/12 at 06:35 AM | #


He is an inspiration. Whatever happened to courage and decency. Shame on the Captain. Lives are ruined- families are torn apart and so is his own. What a disgrace he is.

Posted by mason2 on 01/19/12 at 10:41 AM | #

It seems relevant that the world is learning three things about psychopaths. They don’t give a damn about anyone else, there are more of them than we thought (maybe one in twenty), and there tends to be a concentration of them at the top.

Oh and they are often charming. And they can fool a lot of people. And they stick together. Better make that six, not three.

Let’s guess. Carnival will be brain-scanning its future captains. This scanning is an intriguing development which I was iffy about when I first read of it. But it could save the world from a ton of trouble.

“Will the defendant agree to take a cat scan?!” “Judge Hellman? Could we do you?”  A post about the debate over the brain of Casey Anthony is coming up.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/19/12 at 12:30 PM | #

The only connection I see between this incident and TJMK is the fact that once again the media has chosen their hero and their bad guy - always needed to keep a story selling.
4 years ago it was Patrick’s reputation that was destroyed, now it is Schettino’s. I feel it prudent to wait for the investigation before propagating media hype on this tragedy.
There are many unanswered questions and as usual once someone is accused/arrested they have no opportunity to defend themselves against the media’s chosen angle. At this stage we are only hearing details that support the story angle, ‘Schettino is the bad guy’.

These huge cruise ships have sophisticated GPS/radar/satellite systems. If they go off course or the captain ‘arbitrarily’ turns all systems off to go on an unauthorized ‘joy ride’ both the HO control center and the coast guard would be well aware of this immediately. The sea has shipping lanes just like planes have traffic lanes – it’s constantly monitored. There were 11 experienced professionals on the bridge with the captain, he didn’t on a whim just turn the ‘steering wheel’. This same route deviation occurred in August 2011, if both were approved by the coast guard there is shared responsibility thus the finger pointing and animosity.

My point is that at this time none of us know what went wrong and why. If the early story had been written from a different angle Schettino could be the hero – the company and the coastguard had to put the focus on the captain as they have a huge liability that will only be sorted out in the investigation.

BREAKING NEWS (revised)!
For the second time in 6 months a Carnival cruise ship has veered off course – this time with deadly consequences.  The captain of CC is being hailed a hero for maneuvering the crippled ship within 100 m of land to facilitate evacuation as half the lifeboats were underwater and local fishing boats were needed; some passengers were literally able to swim ashore.  With only the auxiliary PA system and emergency lighting the captain used his cell phone to communicate with rescuers and crew overseeing the safe evacuation. All are to be commended for evacuating over 4000 people in less than 2 hours under such circumstances.
Many questions remain unanswered – how did it go unnoticed that this huge ship with sophisticated tracking systems was almost 15 km off course and no longer in the shipping lane? Was this route deviation approved and submitted to the coast guard, if not why was the captain not alerted by the control center that he was no longer in the safety of the planned shipping lane?

Posted by Patri on 01/19/12 at 02:17 PM | #

@Peter - that’s if they can find it!! lol!! [Casey Anthony’s brain I mean]

Posted by Melanie on 01/19/12 at 03:24 PM | #

Hi Patri. How he put the ship on the rocks is indeed an open question. On the technical details I know you are right.  But I was not commenting on that and that is not the source of the Italian outrage.

The point of the video which seems pretty clear is that the captain was for some reason (he has offered several, such as he tripped) down in a lifeboat, and clearly reluctant to return to take charge when 4000 plus were still on the endangered ship.

There might be a scenario that has the meanie Carnival company putting him there, but so far, I don’t see it. Unlike Patrick (who btw was framed by one person, not by the meanie press) the captain seems fairly accused.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/19/12 at 10:09 PM | #

@Patri - The reason why Schettino is being harshly criticized is primarily because, as the captain and leader of the ship, he abandoned his position as captain and physically abandoned the ship during a catastrophic emergency while passengers were still on board.

“Seamen have expressed almost universal outrage at Capt. Francesco Schettino, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and of abandoning his crippled cruise ship off Tuscany while passengers were still on board. The last charge carries a potential sentence of 12 years in prison.”

You commented: “4 years ago it was Patrick’s reputation that was destroyed, now it is Schettino’s.” If you are referring to Patrick Lumumba, I fail to see the comparison between the two cases. Furthermore, there is evidence in the recordings of the Port Authority (detailed in this post) with Schettino about the situation and that Schettino prematurely abandoned ship before the passengers could be helped. Regarding abandoning ship, this is not a false accusation that has landed Schettino in jail.

Posted by giustizia on 01/19/12 at 10:22 PM | #


This is all about how we face an emergency.

All commercial aircrafts have very sophisticated navigational aids. Still accidents do happen.

On land, we have a fairly robust system of traffic rules.  Still road accidents are not decreasing…

The question is whether it could have been prevented.  I, for one, do not worry about the technicalities. Could the captain have done something that led to the accident?

Another question is the command responsibility.  What are his responsibilities after the accident happened?

We judge people by their actions in a crisis.  Not by how entertaining he was in a dance party.

I know there will be enquiries and I also know it will take years to find out the final truth. But the fact remains that he has deserted his passengers in the time of crisis.  Perhaps it is just incompetence but does he have any sense of responsibility?

It is entirely possible that others were also responsible (like the guardia de firenza) but that is an entirely different story.

My personal opinion is that he has acted immaturely (should I say irresponsibly?)

Posted by chami on 01/20/12 at 08:44 AM | #

latest news is that he was wining and dining an ‘attractive blonde’ when the incident occurred. She has been located in Moldovia and is defending him saying that he did not abandon ship. Also, you may not have heard, the coastguard contacted the ship and asked if they needed assistance following communication between a passenger and someone on shore. The passenger reported that he was at dinner and ‘things’ were falling on top of the diners and they were told to put on their life jackets. The ship replied to say that there was a blackout that they were investigating and no assistance was required. I hope that storm blows over and there is no damage to the sea or its wildlife,

Posted by Melanie on 01/20/12 at 12:32 PM | #

The Independent seems to have the best English-language update and an image of the Moldavian dancer who Melanie refers to.—or-an-innocent-aboard-6292246.html

In one early description seemingly verified in that report he claimed he knew someone in the port and wanted to cruise close to show off. He has admitted he was in charge of the steering, without charts. The company and port authorities did not know.

He was seen at dinner with the dancer half an hour earlier and drinking, possibly just one one drink. It seems unclear why the dancer was on the ship. Seemingly during the impact they were both up on the bridge. Was it she he was trying to impress? 

Otherwise how did she know he was good at steering in confined spaces? Was he showing off at the wheel? 

The dancer said she was on the bridge to explain things to the Russian-language passengers. English-language passengers said they were told nothing for an hour, Meanwhile the the boat was listing and taking on water.

It’s hard to see how the dancer’s claim that the captain saved lives stands up when 30-plus people were dying or already dead beneath their feet while the info to the port officials mentioned nothing about being on the reef.

Sounds like she might be trying to cover both of their backs. Chami above seems to have it just right. More irresponsible narcissistic uncaring behavior that has led to a lot of hurt.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/20/12 at 03:06 PM | #

Thanks Peter and Giustizia for the links.  I also found some additional information from the Google.

First question is why a dancer is giving a certificate of competence to a disgraced captain?

My next question is why the captain was trying to cover up the accident by telling that it just a blackout? The captain must have surely known that something is seriously wrong (e.g., an accident has taken place) in the first place.  Why did he delay?

From the photos it is very clear that the vessel is quite close to the shore and no one (I mean no one) need to have died (or missing, as they say in the papers) if some prompt action were taken. So my last question is whether the said dancer was actually fiddling with the controls? Or the captain just wanted to show off to the newly discovered beauty?

It is doubly sad as this was certainly an avoidable tragedy.

Honesty is the best policy, but insanity is a better defense.

Posted by chami on 01/20/12 at 05:30 PM | #

Both for the captain and for the company and other crew this seems to be getting worse. Just when some crisis management would seem most vital the captain was seen walking around on land. This is after the coastguard yelled at him.

One English passenger: “There was certainly no ‘women and children first’ policy. It was disgusting. We were also told by crew that we should go back to our cabin. Thank God we didn’t do as they had told us as we may not have made it off the ship alive.”

Reports say that if the ship moves 30 meters east it will fall off the shelf. It is already sliding and could be gone in days or even hours. With that hole in the side, it could be impossible to get it back up. Then the real environmental problems begin.

The site Geogarage has been gathering and looking at marine charts to see why the ship hit the rocks. Take a look:

The course plotted doesn’t seem to pass over any obvious rocks in those charts but it was surely way, way too close and the previous time the ship “buzzed” the port of Giglio it seemed to have been at least a few meters further away.

Geogarage compares this negatively to the sinking of the Sea Diamond off a Greek island (Santorini) five years ago. It says an underwater survey was done recently that showed there were underwater rocks extending out far further than on the charts.

In that case the captain took no risks, he merely moved slightly aside to allow another ship to pass. In this case the ship was literally miles off approved course (and official sea-lanes). And like the captain’s the dancer’s various tales don’t add up.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/20/12 at 09:29 PM | #

Here’s an interesting story from one couple on the boat during (and after) the ship disaster:  “American newlyweds survive Italian cruise wreck”

“Newlyweds Benji Smith and Emily Lau, of Cambridge, Mass., are speaking out about their ordeal surviving the Italian cruise ship disaster when the captain grounded the liner, leaving it capsized off the coast of Tuscany.

Lau said getting off the sinking ship and dealing with panic-stricken passengers and crew was only half of the story. The lack of leadership and organization on and off the ship was hard to believe and only added to the tragedy.

“I wasn’t worried about drowning to death,” she said. “I was more worried the crew was going to kill us.”

Posted by giustizia on 01/21/12 at 01:20 AM | #
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Where next:

Click here to return to The Top Of The Front Page

Or to next entry Did The Captain Being Drunk Delay Evacuation And Cause The Probable 30-Plus Deaths?

Or to previous entry In US Casey Anthony May Have Seized Control Of Her PR Now Freed