Francesco Schettino has been the thorn in the side of Costa Concordia survivors and the loved ones of those who perished under his watch when the vessel capsized off the coast of Giglio, Italy in January 2012. Maritime authorities and each cruise ship injury lawyer at our firm have criticized the former captain’s decision to pull off a tricky maneuver known as a “salute,” which brings a vessel closer to shore than may be safe for guests in order to give those onboard and ashore a better view, that led the Concordia to strike a large rock and partially sink, injuring over 150 people and killing 32 others.
Schettino has been blamed not just for his decision to change the course of the Concordia at the last minute, but because of his appalling actions in the wake of the cruise ship accident. Despite the fact that as captain, he is responsible for the safety of everyone onboard – including both passengers and crew members – Schettino was nowhere to be found during the ship’s evacuation, leaving guests and crews to fend for themselves.
Many describe the evacuation process as a nightmare, with crew members scrambling around confused, frightened and seeming to have no idea what to do following an accident at sea. Several passengers even reported crews failing to communicate with each other, speaking in multiple languages few were able to understand. Where was Schettino as the mayhem unfolded? Abandoning ship.
Although there is no specific maritime law that requires a captain to remain onboard until the very last person is safely off the ship, as our cruise ship lawyers explained in a recent blog regarding the widespread negative public opinion of Schettino, it is a well-known display of proper etiquette for the captain – the main person in charge of a vessel – to oversee the safety of everyone onboard, and this includes remaining on the vessel if an abandon ship call is made.
For several years, captains have practiced this custom, making sure their crew and passengers evacuate a disabled vessel when tragedy strikes. But despite Schettino’s responsibilities as captain to protect crew members and guests, he abandoned the ship, leaving 32 people to die alone and helpless on the Concordia.
Although many maritime law experts, including each cruise ship injury lawyer at our firm, have agreed that several mistakes and breaches of safety were committed following the Concordia crash, which implicated several crew members and the owner of Costa Crociere SpA, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., everyone aside from Schettino has basically been given a “get out of jail free” card, leaving only the captain to stand trial for the accident.
Schettino was charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship, and if convicted, may face up to 20 years in prison. After over a year and a half of waiting for justice, Concordia survivors and loved ones of the deceased were eager to observe the trial for the 52-year-old former captain, which commenced this week in a theater in Grosseto, the only location large enough to house all onlookers as well as attorneys. But as luck would have it, proceedings were postponed following an 8-day Italian lawyer strike.
However, there was still enough time for Schettino’s attorneys to make a shocking announcement.
It appears as though the former captain has decided to change his testimony regarding his actions following the Concordia crash. According to his lawyers, the captain did not abandon ship as many believe, and instead, claim Schettino was thrown off the Concordia accidentally.
Sure Schettino, we believe you – not. This version of the story is just as ludicrous as a previous statement, in which the captain claims he inadvertently “tripped” and fell into a lifeboat which took him safely to shore. Let’s pretend for a moment that the first version of the story was actually true. If he did accidentally fall into a lifeboat, what is Schettino’s excuse for not getting off the lifeboat and back onto the ship to help the 4,200 people who were struggling for their lives?
Of course, there isn’t one, which is probably why his testimony changed to make it look as though he was thrown off the ship completely and unable to get back onboard.
As it stands, Schettino denies all the charges against him. Contrary to the many people who have dubbed him a “coward,” Schettino claims he should be lauded as a hero, contending he actually saved the lives of the thousands of people onboard the Concordia by skillfully maneuvering the vessel into shallow waters following the accident.
When criticized for changing the course of ship to perform the salute, a practice which the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) explains is extremely rare in this day and age, Schettino dismisses the allegations that he deliberately placed the lives of the passengers and crew in danger for no significant reason, claiming the giant rock the Concordia struck wasn’t marked on his nautical charts.
The trial is scheduled to resume on July 17, giving Schettino plenty of time to come up with new excuses for his negligent and wrongful actions. Hopefully the court will see through his attempts at avoiding conviction and will impart justice upon Concordia victims.