Costa Concordia disaster – Francesco Schettino, the captain who got a lot wrong

On January 13, 2012, 32 people died because the “Costa Concordia” slashed the rocks in front of the Italian Giglio. The captain was Francesco Schettino. To this day, he sees himself as a victim – and is waiting for his final verdict.

At first glance, the accident on the “Costa Concordia” was reminiscent of one of the most spectacular ship accidents in history: the sinking of the “Titanic”, almost exactly 100 years earlier. As in the icy floods of the North Atlantic in 2012, the officers underestimated the danger lurking beneath the surface of the water. Just like then, the hull of the steamer was slashed, like then, the crew was overwhelmed with rescuing the passengers and both captains were at least partly to blame for the disasters.

The sirens wail at 9.45 p.m. at the harbor

How much exactly has not yet been conclusively clarified even ten years after the disaster. What is certain is that fatal mistakes on January 13, 2012 cost the lives of 32 people, including twelve Germans. On the anniversary, the small island of Giglio commemorates the misfortune. A wreath is laid in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, which is erected in honor of the victims in the port, and the names of the dead are written on a plaque next to it. At the time of the accident in the evening at 9.45 p.m. sirens will wail in the harbor – like every year on this day.

For almost no one who had anything to do with the near-end of the “Costa Concordia”, the events are over. Not for the relatives of the victims, not for the crew, not for the survivors, nor for Captain Francesco Schettino. The offspring of a seafaring family, then 51 years old and the stereotype of a dream ship captain, was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment in 2015. Because of multiple negligent homicide, because of negligent causing of an average, and because of leaving the ship prematurely. The latter is not necessarily a criminal offense, according to Willi Wittig from the Association of German Captains and Ship Officers, but “at least part of the code of honor”.

Even his own shipping company had attributed a number of “wrong human decisions” to their “Commandante” at an early stage. Eyewitnesses testified that he had maneuvered the “Costa Concordia” far too close to the coast, ignored the emergency standards and left the ship before the end of the evacuation. There was also an almost romantic reason for the fact that the ship rammed the rocks in front of Giglio: The Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” wrote at the time that Schettino wanted to please a head waiter. He should have been given a few days off a few days beforehand, but these were canceled due to personnel problems. Therefore, the captain wanted to go with him close to his home island.

Others claimed that the Costa Crociere shipping company regularly asked to sail as close to the coast as possible because of the spectacle. Whether for reasons of prestige, kindness or showing off what otherwise supposedly often worked, went wrong this time: The almost 300-meter-long ship scratched a ledge under water, which slashed the hull by around 70 meters.

Fortunately, the wind was blowing in the right direction

Water poured in and the ship was quickly unable to maneuver. It was only because the wind was driving the “Concordia” against the island that the ship came to rest there on an underwater plinth. If the wind had blown differently, the “Concordia” would have drifted out to sea and probably sunk completely – with even worse casualties.

The passengers and the coast guard were left in the dark for 45 minutes. When crew members were already walking through the aisles wearing life jackets, the travelers should stay in the cabins and keep calm. Schettino claims to have said “Don’t panic” in six languages.

It was only around 10.30 p.m. that passengers were called to evacuate the deck and the state of emergency was reported to the authorities. The ship was leaning more and more, the situation became more chaotic. Some passengers were able to get on the lifeboats and drive to the port of Giglio. Others jumped into the water and swam about 100 meters on land. But many were trapped in the trunk.

And Schettino? A British survivor testified at the time that the Italian had amused himself below deck instead of worrying about the course of his ship. One newspaper quoted her as saying, “What shocked me the most is that the captain spent most of the evening drinking at the bar with a beautiful woman in his arms.” What is certain is that Schettino invited his then lover on board, which is why some accused him of trying to impress them with daring maneuvers.

Schettino himself continues to reject these and other allegations. After the accident, he testified that his nautical charts had shown no rocks in the immediate vicinity of the ship. He also believed he was further away from the coast than the “Costa Concordia” actually was. “We should have been in deep water, the rocks were about 300 meters away,” said the captain at the time. Either way, it was a blatant misjudgment by an experienced seafarer. Not his first, though. Two years earlier he had rammed a mole as commander of the “AidaBlu” in Warnemünde.

“Do the Schettino” is a popular saying

At that time he said in an interview with the Czech newspaper “Dnes”: He never wanted to get into a situation like the “Titanic” and have to navigate between icebergs. “But I think that, thanks to preparation, any situation can be mastered and possible problems prevented. The most important thing is the safety of the passengers.”

The recording of a conversation during the accident cemented the image of a captain who was on the one hand a loudmouth and a womanizer, on the other hand a coward. Ultimately, Schettino was the only one who went to prison. He appealed the verdict several times, but always failed. Now he is hoping for a decision from the European Court of Human Rights, where he appealed against the judgment in 2018. Schettino was not treated fairly, and there was also a media campaign, says his lawyer. A court spokesman does not expect the case to be dealt with in 2022.

In an interview, the reason why he left the ship early was the slapstick excuse that he “slipped and fell into the lifeboat” during an evacuation. Fare lo Schettino “, the Schettino make, is a household word for cowardice in Italy to this day.

Sources: DPA, “Corriere della Sera”, “Daily Telegraph“,”Dnes

Collaboration: Malte Arnsperger

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