As ABC News reported, Captain Francesco Schettino of the wrecked Costa Concordia ship has defended himself in court this month against charges of abandoning ship and manslaughter, painting a confusing picture of why the disastrous shipwreck occurred in 2012. In response to questions relating to why he had allowed the massive vessel carrying 4,229 people to detour from the set route, towards rocks that were to cause it to capsize, Schettino’s account in a Tuscan courtroom early this month reportedly laid blame to “everyone but himself”.
Accused of wanting to impress a female passenger Schettino had dined with on the night of the incident, he responded that he had wanted to give all passengers a better view than the set route offered, but it was the helmsman who had steered the Concordia in the ultimately disastrous direction. CNN News reports that Schettino implied that the non-English speaking helmsman had misinterpreted his directions; however an audio recording played in the courtroom depicted a clear transmission of information, discounting Schettino’s claim.
With 32 people killed during the capsize, Schettino’s desire to impress passengers with “sail-pasts” of scenery demonstrates that deviations from safety-related standard operating procedures can be very risky. As BBC reported, the court heard from Concordia crew staff that the Captain’s decision to deviate from the set route was “unauthorised and unapproved”, while the Captain claimed “commercial interests” were the basis for his choice. It is clear that confidence in a non-routine decision must be supplemented with a realistic examination of consequences, to fully understand the risk.
What has become apparent from the prosecution is that there was an inappropriate response to the emergency situation; with an evacuation called an hour after impact, with such a delay contributing to the deaths of many passengers. The Captain stands accused of abandoning ship instead of staying on board to coordinate the evacuation effort. With no clear command and control structure many of the Concordia crew misunderstood instructions to abandon ship.
The incident serves as an important reminder to practice emergency plans and ensure there is always a clear command structure in various modes of operation.