Costa Concordia Captain Formally Indicted on Manslaughter and Abandoning Ship Charges

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

In the wake of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire, which has yet to be resolved, another Carnival Corp.-owned cruise company is still making headlines – Costa Cruises. It seems as though the case may finally be heading to court following a formal indictment against Capt. Francesco Schettino was filed on Monday for manslaughter and abandoning ship charges.

The Costa Concordia vessel ran aground off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio back on Jan. 13, 2012, but the effects of the tragic cruise ship accident are still being felt around the world. The accident took place after Schettino ordered a maneuver called a “salute” to be performed when approaching the island, which caused the ship to change its course. Cruise ships are not supposed to alter their course without notifying authorities or having a good reason to do so, such as an incoming storm or dangerous wave, injured passenger, or other drastic emergency. However, Capt. Schettino did so anyway, for what many believe to have been a way for him to show off.

While the salute is a common maneuver, performed by cruise ships all around the world, this particular incident brought the Concordia far too close to shore, causing the ship to crash into a large rock. The collision then created a huge gash in the vessel’s hull, leading it to partially sink just off the coast of Giglio. The worst part about the situation was that it was 100% preventable. The maneuver did not have to be performed, and had it not, 32 lives would have been spared.

Following the tragic cruise ship accident, several cruise lines were questioned regarding their practices and laws concerning salutes. Capt. Schettino claims he had obtained approval from Costa Cruises to perform the sail-by-salute, but Costa is adamant in denying the accusation.

The world’s major cruise companies were asked if they allow their captains to have the ultimate decision when it comes to taking a vessel close to shore for a salute, but it was no surprise that all of the companies refused to comment on the matter.

At the time, only one cruise line made any sort of effort to speak up on the issue, Norwegian Cruise Line. A spokeswoman for the cruise line briefly touched upon the subject, claiming company CEO Kevin Sheehan had addressed the matter in a letter regarding safety protocols that was sent out to passengers. The letter in question contained one line that stated Norwegian’s officers “follow pre-set voyage plans which are thoroughly reviewed and discussed by the captain and bridge team prior to port departures and arrivals.”

The letter failed to answer whether the cruise line allows its captains to deviate from a pre-planned voyage with or without the company’s consent. To this day, cruise companies have yet to come forward with a straight forward response.

In the meantime, fingers have been pointed at Capt. Schettino, who has been widely criticized for his role in the accident, and was even fired for HIS grave mistake. It’s easy for the cruise company to place blame solely on Schettino, because then they can escape having to take full responsibility for the accident and the deaths of the 32 victims.

At this point, it seems as though the case is more of a personal battle between Schettino and Costa Crociere. Over a year has passed since the Concordia accident, and Schettino fails to show any sort of real remorse for his actions and has even had the audacity to sue Costa Cruises for wrongful termination. In fact, Schettino has gone as far as to say he should be praised as a hero, claiming that if it weren’t for him, more people would have perished.

Because the Concordia is registered in Genoa, Italy, Italian authorities are the main investigators into the accident – a factor which can also render it significantly more difficult for surviving victims and the loved ones of those who were killed to obtain some semblance of justice. For this reason, it is imperative that all victims and family members seek the help of an experienced maritime lawyer to fight for compensation for their pain and suffering following a cruise ship accident.

Whether Schettino will be found at fault or not is only something time will tell, but at least the case finally seems to be moving forward. Italian prosecutors have finally requested an official indictment of Schettino on Monday on manslaughter charges, and are also seeking a trial for the captain for abandoning the ship before all passengers and crew were safely off the vessel.

Additionally, prosecutors have requested the indictment of five other crewmembers on charges of manslaughter. Many of the vessel’s crewmembers were accused of failing to abide by proper protocol following the accident and were reported to have been unaware of how to handle an emergency evacuation.

Following extensive investigations into the cause of the accident, Chief Prosecutor Francesco Verusio said that sufficient evidence has been gathered which has determined the cause of the cruise ship accident to have been negligence.

“[…] The determining cause of the events of the shipwreck, deaths and injuries, is, unfortunately, dramatically due to the human factor.”

Human error at the hands of the captain and likely also by Costa Crociere SpA, the company that owns Costa Cruises.

Costa Crociere SpA has already asked for a plea bargain, and if accepted, could lead the company to pay over $1 million in fines. It’s no wonder the cruise line is trying to place all the blame on Schettino.

Whatever the cause, incidents like the Concordia and the more recent Carnival Triumph disaster continue to shine a light on an industry that is apparently more interested in showboating and profits, than in passenger safety.

Photo Credits:

Top Right: Former Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino – thestar.com
Middle Left: Schettino – bloomberg.com
Bottom Right: Costa Concordia Capsizing Accident – articles.latimes.com