They say you can never go home again. But it appears that saying doesn’t really apply to the former Captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino. Over two years after Schettino manned the helm of the Costa Concordia and ultimately contributed to its fatal crash, and several months since he was charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship, the controversial captain is now back at the port of Giglio, Italy.
This is the first time Schettino has been back to the site of the wreck since the Concordia crashed off the coast of Giglio in January 2012. Donning his usual garb (dark sunglasses and a leather jacket), Schettino arrived at the port and was immediately bombarded by the media.
The captain, and several other crew members, were accused of contributing to the crash. The cruise ship accident lawyers at our firm have been keeping up with the investigation, but despite all the stories and accusations, the portion of blame which has been placed on Schettino doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Schettino was the one who reportedly decided to make the last minute change in itinerary that brought the Concordia too close to shore. And as a result, the vessel crashed into a huge rock, which tore a hole in the hull and led it to capsize.
Though it could have been entirely possible for everyone to evacuate the ship safely, 32 people were killed in the cruise ship accident. Those that survived recounted hellish stories of the evacuation process, alleging crew members were scattered all over the place, could barely communicate with one another and did not appear to know how to properly handle emergency procedures overall.
What’s worse, the captain and a few of his crew were accused of abandoning the ship. Although there is no law that’s set in stone regarding the abandoning ship protocol, it’s time-honored and proper maritime etiquette for a captain to wait for all his passengers and crew before abandoning a vessel. However, Schettino was reportedly one of the first to leave the ship. After being accused of this, he kept coming up with new stories to show he did not “purposefully” evacuate. In one of his stories, Schettino even went as far as to say someone pushed him into a lifeboat and he couldn’t get back out; another reported interview has him saying that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat.
As of now, Schettino’s trial is still underway. But as for the other crew members and even Costa Crociere, SpA, the owner of the Concordia, it appears they have been given a free pass. Five crew members were convicted in July 2013, but their sentences were suspended. Costa Crociere only had to pay a fine to avoid liability for the deadly cruise ship crash. This means Schettino is the only one left to blame. Even Costa Crociere has turned around and said it would pursue claims against Schettino for his actions.
Could the visit to Giglio make a difference in his case? We have yet to see.
According to reports on the visit, Schettino’s lawyers have asked the court in Grosseto to authorize a search of the now parbuckled vessel to determine if any factors beyond human error could have contributed to the disaster. The court agreed to let Schettino board the ship, but Judge Giovanni Puliatti has stressed that the captain should be a help to investigators, not a hindrance.
After the Concordia was righted, investigators have been examining the emergency generators. The bridge was already examined. Schettino and his lawyer are allegedly in the process of speaking with investigators over the Concordia inspection, and what little glimpse media crew were able to obtain of the clandestine captain, it appears as though he was moved by the weight of the situation at hand.
Schettino reportedly wept when he laid eyes on the Concordia after arriving in Giglio. Though he has publicly apologized for his actions and has expressed his condolences to victims and the families of those who lost loved ones, he still denies having abandoned the ship.
Instead, he contends he actually saved the ship because he was able to steer it closer to shore, where waters were more shallow, to avoid a sinking in deeper waters, where hundreds more could have drowned.
And what do locals have to say about Schettino’s visit and allegedly mournful response to the sight of the wreckage?
“…So what?” exclaimed one Giglio resident when interviewed by the AFP news agency.
“Schettino’s here, he cried, so what? We’re tired of this story! We want him and the boat gone,” added the resident.
But not everyone shares her sentiments. Another Giglio resident responded in a more objective manner.
“There’s no real anger here anymore,” said the resident. “Two years have passed and it’s time to make peace with what happened.”