Skip to comments.The Chicken of the Sea: A Modern Tale of Fear, Failure, and Cowardice
Posted on 01/19/2012 5:05:43 AM PST by SLB
The sight of the giant cruise ship Costa Concordia listing in the deadly embrace of the sea is a now a graphic symbol of failure. Its timing is absolutely eerie, coming so close to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. But, unlike the Titanic, this disaster did not take in the middle of the ocean, far from the range of observation. The Costa Concordia appears to be almost touching the rocky Italian coastline. The digital revolution ensures that we are all able to see the wreck of the ship in living color.
And then came the story. It appears that Captain Francesco Schettino deliberately took the Costa Concordia off its assigned course in order to bring the giant vessel dangerously close to the Tuscan coastline so that a crew member could greet his family. During the maneuver, the ship hit a submerged outcropping of rock, tearing a massive hole in the hull. Within seconds, the Captain knew the ship was in trouble, and he brought the fast-sinking ship to rest on a reef, listing heaving on its starboard side.
Within minutes, local authorities launched a rescue operation. Thankfully, the accident took place close to shore, and the captain had been able to crash the ship onto the reef, preventing it from fully sinking. Nevertheless, massive portions of the ships interior space quickly filled with the cold and dark water. The death toll could rise to as many as 40 or more. As of Wednesday night, eleven deaths had been confirmed, and another 24 passengers and crew remained missing. Authorities cited movement of the vessel and conditions on board as an indication that further rescues were unlikely.
A flood of questions immediately surfaced. Why had the captain deliberately taken the ship off its course? What sane captain would bring a massive $450-million vessel with 4,200 passengers and crew into such clearly dangerous waters? Once the ship was compromised, were standard lifesaving practices followed?
All of those questions were swirling about when a stunning development exploded its way into the conversation. An Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, obtained and released a recording of the Italian Coast Guard communicated with Captain Schettino after the accident. That conversation is sure to become part of maritime lore for generations to come.
The recording makes clear that Captain Schettino abandoned his ship long before most passengers were rescued. Captain Gregorio De Falco of the Italian Coast Guard had discovered that Captain Schettino is not on board his ship, but in a rescue boat. Captain De Falco ordered Schettino to return to his ship and command the rescue operation: 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? Im recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino
Captain De Falco continued:
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 Im going to make sure you get in trouble. I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, (expletive)!
Captain Schettino repeatedly refused to return to his ship, insisting that he was here to coordinate the rescue.
Captain De Falco then ordered: You go aboard. It is an order. Dont 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.
Over time, Captain De Falco grew increasingly angry with Captain Schettinos cowardly refusal to go back to is own ship. You want to go home, Schettino?, he asked in exasperation. 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!
Italian authorities later confirmed that Captain Schettino never returned to the vessel, even when he was told that passengers remained in danger and some bodies had already been found.
Across Italy, a stunned nation listened to the recorded conversation was it was broadcast by Italian media. Within an hour, the recording was available in English and a host of other languages a transcript of shame that was so shocking it seemed to be fiction. But it was fact.
Captain Schettino was arrested within hours of the wreck, and he is likely to face criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning his ship. Authorities quickly blamed Schettino for the accident, once it was confirmed that he had ordered the ship to leave its assigned course and when he was confirmed to have been in control of the vessel when the accident occurred.
What are we to do with Captain Schettino? He will go down in history as an example of miserable failure, dereliction of duty, radical cowardice, and the collapse of manhood. He failed to do what any man in his position would be expected to do. He even refused a direct command to take up his duty, once he had abandoned it.
We are left with the tragic picture of a frightened man who abandoned his post when he was most needed, and consigned over 4,200 human beings in his care to the dark water.
It is a portrait of moral collapse and the forfeiture of manhood.
Thankfully, this was not the only picture to be seen. Manrico Giampedroni, a 57-year-old crew member aboard the Costa Concordia devoted himself fearlessly to the rescue of passengers, returning to the listing ship again and again to find them and return them to safety. He stopped only when he badly fractured his leg and had to be rescued himself. Francis Servel, who attempted to flee the boat with his wife, Nicole, discovered that there was only one life jacket. He put it on his wife, and that was her last sight of him. I owe my life to my husband, she said.
The Merchant Marine Officers Handbook states what is expected of a ships master, or captain. The first responsibility cited is this: The master is to be the last man to leave the vessel.
Captain Schettino first told the Italian authorities that he had not abandoned his ship. He than changed his story to say that he had slipped and fallen into the rescue boat.
Among the monuments on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland is a massive granite marker dedicated to the memory of Commander William L. Herndon. In 1857 Commander Herndon was in command of the commercial vessel Central America, under assignment to the United States government, when it ran into hurricane force winds. Commander Herndon gave everything he had to the rescue of those in his care. He evacuated 31 women and 28 children before the ship sank into the stormy waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. He gave his watch to one of the women and asked her to get it to his wife, explaining that he could not leave the ship while anyone remained on board.
Survivors told of seeing Commander Herndon go down with his ship, cigar chomped in his teeth, his head bowed in prayer a portrait of courage, devotion to his charge, and defiance of fear. Two U. S, Navy vessels have since been commissioned in his memory.
Here we face two radically different men, who made radically different decisions. The decisions we make in the present will determine the kind of decision we would make in the future if we were to face the same challenge. Nothing less than the moral order of the universe is at stake when we consider the difference between Commander Herndon off of Cape Hatteras and, off of Italy, the Chicken of the Sea.
It won't be removed in one piece. It weighs more than an aircraft carrier. There are no barge/cranes in the world capable of lifting it.
Really?? If he couldn't navigate a life boat (small craft) how could he captain a huge liner?
This story gets goofier all the time.
Cruise Ship: Costa Concordia. Stats: 114500 Tons ... Tonnage, 114500 Tons, Normal Crew Size, 1100. Length, 950 feet, Crew Nationality, N/A. Beam, 116 feet ...
USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70) Displacement 91300 Tons, Dimensions, 1088’ (oa) x 134’ x 37’ 8”
? Geez, that's why the ship crashed into the rocks.
And it comes out this AM that the captain was dining with an unauthorized (24 yo lady) passenger when the crash occurred.
I said that when it first happened. It reminds me of a Ferry Boat crash in Puget Sound in the 1980s. The Captain was steering close to shore to greet a lady friend on an island when he ran aground spilling cars and people into the icy waters. Idiot.
They have pictures of him under a blanket in a lifeboat...I guess he fell under the blanket, too? This was before he hopped into a cab when he got to shore and told the driver to take him as far away as possible. I wonder how he explains that.
The guy is an embarrassment to Italy. I read one Italian commentator who was lamenting that the story makes the rest of the world think that all of their negative images of Italians have ample confirmation. Frivolous, dishonest, cowardly, liars...the “captain” looks like a walking Italian joke.
Sadly, I think it’s going to do a lot of damage to the Italian cruise industry among foreigner travelers.
A think his smile, charisma and how he looked in an Armani-designed silk captain’s uniform counted for more than his sea experience or judgement.
The Italians DO have to answer for that.
You won’t hear of anything like this from a Norwegian or Scottish captain. (They provide many of the officers for the world’s merchant fleets.)
Remember about 15 years ago, the cruise ship that sank off of South Africa? The captain and crew were first off in the boats, leaving the mosty British entertainment crew to run the evacuation by small boats and helicopters.
Same story. Like the old joke gun ad, “Italian Mannlicher Carbine, almost like new, never fired, only dropped once.”
I cried when I first read this story at Annapolis many years ago, and again today. The first time was both out of admiration for the Captain and out of sadness that America had lost such a great man. The second time was out of despair for our Navy, which has gone from naming ships for heroes to naming one the USS Murtha!
...out of despair for our Navy, which has gone from naming ships for heroes to naming one the USS Murtha!
What’s the problem? He was simply “leading from behind,” like Obama.
Yes, seeing that picture of him where he looked like everybody’s mental picture of an oily Italian cruise-ship gigolo certainly didn’t help the Italian image either!
Traditions do matter.
“The Birkenhead Drill”
HMS Birkenhead, also referred to as HM Troopship Birkenhead or steam frigate Birkenhead, was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. She was designed as a frigate, but was converted to a troopship before being commissioned.
On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Danger Point near Gansbaai on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived, and the soldiers’ chivalry gave rise to the “women and children first” protocol when abandoning ship, while the “Birkenhead drill” of Rudyard Kipling’s poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.
(My comment: The ordinary English soldiers stood in ranks, as the ship went down, in order not to contribute to any panic as the women and children were placed in the boats.)
If you ever see any vessel, even a dinghy, named the USS BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, it will mark the end of the USA! Well, on second thought maybe we should commission a one man rowboat with that name just to remind people what a tiny excuse for a man he is.
See #13, on “the Birkenhead Drill.”
But for all of those who question Italian masculinity I have the following anecdote from Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem": During WWII at one point the Italians and the Germans were occupying separate areas of Yugoslavia. The SS noticed that the cattle cars intended to ship Jews north were returning from the Italian sector empty and so they summoned the Italian general: "where is your quota of Jews?"
Said the Italian, "Rounding up people for slaughter is beneath the dignity of the Italian Army"
Here we see the pitiable Italian Army of WWII showing a dignity far beyond the grasp of the mighty Wehrmacht.
Hang the Merchant Marine captain.
One of my favorite stories. I wonder how many would do the same when faced with certain death as those soldiers were?
Those ordinary British soldiers set the standard we must all try to live up to. And if required, die for.
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