"Going down with the ship" and the Costa Concordia


Scott Mills

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I have a question for the mariners here. Obviously, the behavior of the captain of Conta Concordia was reprehensible.

It is equally obvious that the old law of the sea that Captains must, or ought, to go down with their ship is antiquated.

I'm curious as to at what point a captain of a passenger carrying vessel can try to save himself.

As I've read, there is a legal requirement that for US registered ships the captain must see to the evacuation of passengers and crew, and compile a list of the dead before leaving his ship. This is also true in international law as I understand it.

But at some point in the foundering of a vessel, sometimes very quickly it seems, this becomes either impossible, or useless such that all following the letter of the law will do is ensure the death of the captain.

So at what point can the master of a vessel reasonably abandon his post? As an example, I'm thinking of Lusitania when the captain, on the bridge is washed off during a sinking that took 17 minutes.

Similarly, some witness they see Captain Smith dive off the bridge when all the boats were gone, or were being washed off the boat deck. If this is true, was he justified in doing so?

Or imagine if the Captain of the Contra Concordia had stayed at his post. At some point most everyone would have been evacuated with some missing. The ship is clearly going to roll over... would it then be okay for him to evacuate the ship, even though he has not met the letter of the law?
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>So at what point can the master of a vessel reasonably abandon his post?<<

I don't think you'll find that the answer to that question is quite as clear cut as you might think even if the letter of the law is crystal clear. The position of Captain carries enormous responsibility and the reason for this is because the captain of a ship is as close to being an absolute monarch as you're going to find anywhere on the face of the planet. The authority which s/he enjoys goes hand in hand with the burden of responsibility for the safety of the ship and every single living soul on board.

Obviously, if everything has been done in an emergency to get everybody off the ship if evacuation is called for, and any further attempts at rescueing any remaining passengers and crew is no longer possible, the captain is entirely justified in leaving the ship. Just as obvious, the captain has the same justification in departing when the command is rapidly leaving him/her behind, such as what happened when the Titanic and Lusitania took their final plunges.

What got the captains of...for example...the Oceanos and the Costa Concordia in such hot water was because they took off long before that point was reached.
 

Scott Mills

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>>So at what point can the master of a vessel reasonably abandon his post?<<

I don't think you'll find that the answer to that question is quite as clear cut as you might think even if the letter of the law is crystal clear. The position of Captain carries enormous responsibility and the reason for this is because the captain of a ship is as close to being an absolute monarch as you're going to find anywhere on the face of the planet. The authority which s/he enjoys goes hand in hand with the burden of responsibility for the safety of the ship and every single living soul on board.

Obviously, if everything has been done in an emergency to get everybody off the ship if evacuation is called for, and any further attempts at rescueing any remaining passengers and crew is no longer possible, the captain is entirely justified in leaving the ship. Just as obvious, the captain has the same justification in departing when the command is rapidly leaving him/her behind, such as what happened when the Titanic and Lusitania took their final plunges.

What got the captains of...for example...the Oceanos and the Costa Concordia in such hot water was because they took off long before that point was reached.

Michael,

I wrote a pretty lengthy reply to you a couple days ago, but I did it on my phone (the norm for me these days). In other words, my big clumsy fingers hit the cancel button and that was that.

Suffice it to say, I agree with you, it is precisely because this isn't a cut and dry question that it interests me! Ethics is somewhat of a hobby of mine (Philosophy was one of my undergraduate majors). And obviously, I have an opinion of my own here--it matches yours pretty well actually.

Its just difficult for me to be confident about that position because, hey, its never been my life in the balance as either a passenger of, or a commander of any sort of watercraft. Hell, I've never been more than a mile of shore in a boat in my entire life! So with that in mind I thought I'd query those of you who make, or have made, your living on the sea. It seems that your experiences give you something more of a framework to judge these things than myself.

Best,

Scott
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Don't get too romantic about this topic.

No law requires a captain to go down with his ship. And, forcing someone to commit suicide is contrary to most major religions.

Captains are legally and morally required to do their utmost to protect the safety of their ship, passengers, and crew. (Protecting the ship automatically protects the passengers.) Staying aboard until the end is the easiest way to prevent salvage claims against the ship, but no ship is worth a man's life unnecessarily.

Common sense has to prevail. If a captain can do nothing more than commit suicide by staying aboard his ship, then he is perfectly justified in abandoning ship and/or accepting rescue.
 

Scott Mills

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Don't get too romantic about this topic.

No law requires a captain to go down with his ship. And, forcing someone to commit suicide is contrary to most major religions.

Captains are legally and morally required to do their utmost to protect the safety of their ship, passengers, and crew. (Protecting the ship automatically protects the passengers.) Staying aboard until the end is the easiest way to prevent salvage claims against the ship, but no ship is worth a man's life unnecessarily.

Common sense has to prevail. If a captain can do nothing more than commit suicide by staying aboard his ship, then he is perfectly justified in abandoning ship and/or accepting rescue.

David,

I by no means wish to romanticize the idea of "going down with the ship." Its just that after doing a little research (where I did learn the origin is to prevent another company from claiming salvage) the "letter of the law" seemed pretty strict. So much so that what it required of a captain of a vessel would surely mean, if followed exactly, that the captain would perish in carrying out his legally assigned tasks in a sinking.

My own feeling was that this was insane, and I agree with both you and Michael. I was just testing the waters to see what people who actually work on the ocean think about this more than anything. And I guess I was also curious as to what people in general thought would have been appropriate for the captain of the Contra Concordia. In other words, we know what he did do was disgraceful, but what should he have done and at what point would it have been okay to abandon his station (ethically that is).
 

LaBrava

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Former Captain Schettino

Former Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia faces charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship. If convicted on all charges, Schettino could be sentenced to a prison term exceeding 2,500 years.

See WebCite query result

It seems that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a repeat of the sinking of the Titanic.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>It seems that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a repeat of the sinking of the Titanic. <<

No, not really.

About the only thing either casualty has in common is that there was a long string of mistakes leading up to the accident. Beyond that, there's little basis to compare.
 

LaBrava

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"Accidents"

Michael, an "accident" is an unforseeable event. Having an insufficient number of lifeboats for all passengers and crew, it is forseeable that eventually there will be great loss of life due to criminal negligence. Also, racing at top speed in the darkness in the North Atlantic Ocean when it is known that icebergs are present, it is only a question of when tragedy will occur, not if tragedy will occur.

As for the the Costa Concordia, what will you say if someone is convicted by an Italian court for manslaughter or abandoning ship? Michael, people are not sent to prison for an accident.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Michael, an "accident" is an unforseeable event.<<

I know that. It's also irrelevant. What you said was that "It seems that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a repeat of the sinking of the Titanic." and it's not. These are very different accidents, and with very different outcomes. Most of the people on the Costa Concordia survived. Most of the people on the Titanic died.

>>As for the the Costa Concordia, what will you say if someone is convicted by an Italian court for manslaughter or abandoning ship?<<

Depends on whether the offence as defined by the laws in force can be demonstrated by the evidence.

>>Michael, people are not sent to prison for an accident. <<

Oh yes they are!

Happens all the time, especially in the maritime world. You can ask the Captain and 1st officer of the Rena as an example to start with. Don't forget what happened to the skipper of the tanker Prestige, or the captain of the Exxon Valdez. People face criminal sanctions for accidents all the time.
 

LaBrava

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Categorization

Michael, the sinking of the Titanic and the sinking of the Costa Concordia are not "accidents." Both sinkings can be put in the same category: tragedies due to acts of criminal negligence.

I recall that the death toll for the Costa Concordia was 32 but it could have been much higher. The Costa Concordia collided with a reef that was approximately 150 feet from the island's shore and all of the passengers and crew had lifejackets. What if the collision had occurred in an area that was remote and it was much more difficult to get to shore? Many more passengers would have died of hypothermia and the death toll would have been much higher.

Michael, you cite the Exxon Valdez as an example of an accident. I still think that you do not understand what the term "accident" means. The term "accident" implies that the defendant could not reasonably be expected to do anything to prevent the incident from occurring. In the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the defendant could have:
1.) maintained the tanker's radar so that it was functional,
2.) purchased state-of-the-art iceberg monitoring equipment to allow the tanker to safely use the normal sea lane, and
3.) doubled the 1989 crew size to the 1977 crew level so that the crew was not overworked and tired.

The court's judgement was correct. The incident was an environmental disaster due to acts of negligence.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Michael, the sinking of the Titanic and the sinking of the Costa Concordia are not "accidents." <<

Yes they are.

>>Both sinkings can be put in the same category: tragedies due to acts of criminal negligence.<<

Possibly, and with Costa Concordia, I would say "certainly" but they were still accidents.

>>Michael, you cite the Exxon Valdez as an example of an accident.<<

Which it was.

>>I still think that you do not understand what the term "accident" means.<<

I understand it very well. To say that something was NOT an accident is to say that it was a deliberate act. (And people can and ARE found criminally culpable for accidents. That's a fact and not open to debate.)

>>The court's judgement was correct. The incident was an environmental disaster due to acts of negligence. <<

And I'm not saying that the courts judgement was wrong. You're contriving a strawman.

What you said which I was responding to was Michael, people are not sent to prison for an accident. And I pointed out that this is demonsterably incorrect.
 

LaBrava

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"Accidents"

Michael, to say that something was not an accident does NOT mean that it was a deliberate act. For example, if Exxon does not repair their tanker's radar and that radar could have prevented the oil spill, that does NOT mean that Exxon planned the spill. All it means is that Exxon does NOT care what the consequences are for a broken radar system.

People are NOT found criminally culpable for accidents. People ARE found criminally culpable for negligence where that negligence becomes so great that it leads to adverse consequences such as death, injury or property damage.

Michael, what is "accidental" when you use the term "accident"? You are using the term "accident" incorrectly. You can use the term "accident" any way that you wish, but it does not further any discussion because now the term "accident" becomes meaningless.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Michael, to say that something was not an accident does NOT mean that it was a deliberate act.<<

Stop.

An "accident" is an unintentional event and in the context of this discussiion, one with a bad outcome.

Period.

>>People are NOT found criminally culpable for accidents.<<

Yes they are. This is a matter of documented fact and as I indicated, NOT open to any sort of debate. (Ask the officers of the M/V Rena who ended up being prosecuted. ) In point of fact, had you been following the news like I have, you would be aware of the FACT that this has been a sore issue in the maritime community for years.

You can have an accident...which both the Titanic and the Costa Concordia were...and still be held criminally liable if the accident can be shown to be caused by negligence. This is also an absolute fact.

And to get back to the core of what started this little dustup, you asserted the following: "It seems that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a repeat of the sinking of the Titanic. "

Sorry but you're dead nuts wrong on that. The outcome was the same but only insofar as the vessel was lost. Beyond that, the chain of events and the outcome for the passengers and crew (The vast majority on the Costa Concordia survived!) was very different.
 
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Jim Currie

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"An unexpected usu. sudden event that occurs without intent or volition although sometimes through carelessness, unawareness, ignorance, or a combination of causes and that produces an unfortunate result (as an injury) for which the affected party may be entitled to relief under the law or to compensation under an insurance policy"
In the case of Titanic or any other ship, it is a lose-lose situation for the captain but not if he drew his employer's notice to a situation which might have resulted in an accident.

Titanic had the very latest Welin davits for launching her lifeboats. Almost all other ships at sea at that time had the old radial type davits which could take anything up to 6 men to get each boat ready for launching.
Every second counts when abandonning ship. This being the case, the captain of every ship fitted with the old type davit was culpable every time he set sail.

It is often partly due to the lay-person's or advocate's intepretation of the above deffinition, by which I mean, "unawareness, ignorance, or a combination of causes and that produces an unfortunate result" which prevents clear evaluation and the gathering of information which might help to reduce or prevent a particular accident happening again.

Any accident Investigator will tell you that often, a witness will hold back vital evidence for fear of being sued.

The classic is the Costa Concordia affair. Hardly had that ship keeled over than pontification was rife among the ignorant. Leaving aside for the moment the reason fro the ship keeling-over; my questions to anyone who might be reading this is this:

How would it be possible for the captain of a ship to oversee the safe evacuation of his ship by lifeboat if

1.. Half his lifeboats were under water?
2.. His ship was lying on it's side?
3.. Half his bridge was submerged?

Bear in mind that most of those who condemn the captain of Costa Concordia, already had him condemned before there was any evidence to condemn him with. Heavens! Initially, the Italian Coast Guard incident co-ordinator was talking to the man from 40 miles away, asking him question and giving directions. Rediculous nonsese!

I think about the case of Amanda Knox!

On the other hand: Captain Smith of Titanic was a different deal altogether.

He was on his bridge 2 hours before Titanic hit the ice. At that time, he knew exactly where his ship was relative to the ice he had been warned about. He did not slow down, but then neither did any other captain in the vicinity. He did not do so because he had maximum visibility and supreme confidence on those in command of his bridge.
Nobody condemned Captain Rostron of Carpathia for doing exactly the same thing as did Captain Smith. The foremer almost hit the same iceberg as mortally wounded Titanic.
If there was anyone to blame that night, it was possibly Phillips. Titanic's Chief Wireless Operator. He had notification from Californian at about 11:10pm almost an hour before Titanic hit the iceberg. At that time, he would know the position where Californian was stopped. He did not deliver that message to the Bridge otherwise Boxhall would have known about it and we might not ber having this discourse.

Jim C.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Any accident Investigator will tell you that often, a witness will hold back vital evidence for fear of being sued.<<

Or worse.

>>Bear in mind that most of those who condemn the captain of Costa Concordia, already had him condemned before there was any evidence to condemn him with.<<

Whether the damns were justified or not, the fact is that here is another example of a man who is being subjected to criminal prosecution and sanction for as a consequence of an accident.

So much for the "People are NOT found criminally culpable for accidents. claim.
 

L. Colombo

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The classic is the Costa Concordia affair. Hardly had that ship keeled over than pontification was rife among the ignorant. Leaving aside for the moment the reason fro the ship keeling-over; my questions to anyone who might be reading this is this:

How would it be possible for the captain of a ship to oversee the safe evacuation of his ship by lifeboat if

1.. Half his lifeboats were under water?
2.. His ship was lying on it's side?
3.. Half his bridge was submerged?

Well, that's not exactly correct. It passed quite a while before the ship keeled over and prevented from launching some lifeboats. The ship struck the rock at about 21.42 hours, but only at 22.58 it was given the order to launch the lifeboats. The ship's list increased gradually, but only at about 24.10-24.15 decks 3 and 4 (where the muster stations and lifeboats were located) were flooded and the ship keeled over. Until that hour the ship wasn't liyng on her side, nor the bridge was underwater (but neither close to the water), nor any lifeboat was underwater. In fact, all the lifeboats on the submerged side (starboard) were launched well before the deck was submerged, and many had also the time, once they had unloaded their passengers, to return to the sinking ship to pick up more people left on the starboard side of decks 3 and 4. Three lifeboats, out of a total of 26, could never be launched: boats 6 (a normal lifeboat), 12 and 16 (large tenders), all on the port side, because of the excessive heel.

The first report about the sinking (in Italian) is here: Scribd.
 

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