How Could A Cruise Go So Wrong?

The official death toll from that cruise ship running into rocks off the coast of Italy has risen to 11. Five more bodies were recovered Tuesday. And the captain of the Costa Concordia is reportedly being placed under house arrest on suspicion of manslaughter and abandoning the vessel before all passengers were evacuated. (See transcript of conversation between captain and Italian coast guard after the break)

A cruise ship passing by at sunrise

For those who have been on a cruise before, seeing the images of a huge luxury liner lying on its side in the water is shocking. I’ve been on many cruises, and while the thought of a “Titanic” or “Poseidon Adventure” disaster has crossed my mind, it’s usually only the punchline of a joke. Come on, that stuff only happens in the movies (although Titanic was a movie of an actual disaster long ago).

Stuff happens while cruising. I’ve experienced the “I feel like throwing up” rocking of the ship in bad weather. There was also the time during dinner

Cruise ships lined up at Alaskan port

the ship took “evasive” maneuvers to avoid a pod of whales in Alaska (soup ended up on my lap). Or, when cruising the Caribbean, a dozen of us, mostly strangers, got stuck in an elevator (we were rescued by a passenger who happened to be a firefighter). And how could I forget our cruise just months after 9-11? As we were pulling into Malta, two speed boats were racing toward our cruise ship from opposite directions. Terrorists on a suicide mission? Believe me, it crossed my mind, and the minds of 3000 other passengers. At the last moment, the speed boats diverted from their apparent target and ran parallel to the ship. An escort from the Maltese Coast Guard, or something like that. Thanks for letting us know.

While those kinds of things are scary at the time, it’s not that unusual, especially if you’ve cruised a while. But running a luxury cruise liner aground and abandoning your passengers is unthinkable. And unforgivable.

Here’s the transcript of the conversation (translation provided by the Associated Press) between Capt. Francesco Schettino, commander of the grounded Costa Concordia, and Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard in Livorno. In no uncertain terms, De Falco is ordering Schettino to get back to the front lines, so to speak.

In the conversation, De Falco repeatedly orders Schettino to return to the ship to oversee the evacuation, while Schettino resists, making excuses that it’s dark and that the ship is listing.

De Falco: “This is De Falco speaking from Livorno. Am I speaking with the commander?”

Schettino: “Yes. Good evening, Cmdr. De Falco.”

De Falco: “Please tell me your name.”

Schettino: “I’m Cmdr. Schettino, commander.”

De Falco: “Schettino? Listen, Schettino. There are people trapped on board. Now you go with your boat under the prow on the starboard side. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I’m recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino…”

Schettino: “Commander, let me tell you one thing…”

De Falco: “Speak up! Put your hand in front of the microphone and speak more loudly, is that clear?”

Schettino: “In this moment, the boat is tipping…”

De Falco: “I understand that, listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow. You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen, Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to … I’m going to make sure you get in trouble. … I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, [expletive]!”

Schettino: “Commander, please…”

De Falco: “No, please. You now get up and go on board. They are telling me that on board there are still…”

Schettino: “I am here with the rescue boats, I am here, I am not going anywhere, I am here…”

De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

Schettino: “I am here to coordinate the rescue…”

De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?”

Schettino: “No, I am not refusing.”

De Falco: “Are you refusing to go aboard commander? Can you tell me the reason why you are not going?”

Schettino: “I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped.”

De Falco: “You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there.”

Schettino: “Where are your rescuers?”

De Falco: “My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino.”

Schettino: “How many bodies are there?”

De Falco: “I don’t know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ.”

Schettino: “But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see anything…”

De Falco: “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

Schettino: “…I am with my second in command.”

De Falco: “So both of you go up then … You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?”

Schettino: “Commander, I want to go on board, but it is simply that the other boat here … there are other rescuers. It has stopped and is waiting…”

De Falco: “It has been an hour that you have been telling me the same thing. Now, go on board. Go on board! And then tell me immediately how many people there are there.”

Schettino: “OK, commander”

De Falco: “Go, immediately!”

One Comment on “How Could A Cruise Go So Wrong?

  1. Pingback: Cruise Captain “Stumbled” into a Lifeboat « JustMyPOV

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