O Captain, my Captain. “Get back on board, for [expletive] sake!”
Along with the “routine” plane crash and the terrorist on board, the sinking ship has got to be one of the top travel fears. Lusitania. Titanic. Poseidon Adventure. Andrea Doria. And all those crowded ferries that seem to meet with mishap with some regularity. Fact or fiction, we’ve seen the movie, read the book, caught it on the evening news often enough to suspect it could happen.
Still, cruising in calm waters off the Italian coast, just off shore, doesn’t sound like the recipe for disaster. But for those on the Costa Concordia, it proved just that.
If not for the horrors the survivors experienced; the grief of those who lost friends and family; the rising death toll (including, heartbreakingly, the death of a 5 year old girl whose father was also killed), and the presumed terror-filled last moments the victims had; and the potential for environmental havoc if the fuel leaks out – and those are some pretty big “if nots” – this event would seem almost ludicrous: the foundering ship in what looked to be within dog-paddling distance of safety.
And, of course, there’s the hapless and feckless captain, Francesco Schettino, allegedly running the ship aground while attempting to “buzz” a friend on shore; wining and dining at the time of the crash with a comely blonde less than half his age; claiming that he hadn’t abandoned his ship but had, rather, fallen into a lifeboat while supervising the rescue of his passengers. Not to mention his man-tan and aging Lothario looks. Straight out of a casting call for opera buffa, with Schettino counterbalanced by the far nobler coast guard captain who ordered him back on his ship, telling him “Vada a bordo, cazzo”. (Which I’ve seen variously translated as “get back on board, for fuck’s sake,” and “get back on board, you prick.”)
Francesco Schettino is being justifiably vilified – what was he thinking heading off course in rocky waters, endangering his ship and all those lives on it? – and may well face criminal charges for negligent manslaughter.
His decision to play fast and loose, his irresponsible ac,t was a terrible dereliction of his duty. But abandoning ship, trying to save his own skin, is not a criminal act, as far as I know. Sure, it’s pretty heinous and cowardly, but if lack of courage, failure of nerve, and disgrace under pressure were crimes, the prison population would be orders of magnitude greater than it is now.
No. What Schettino’s “slip” into the lifeboat tells me is that he was in a job that he had no business being in. Bad career choice, wrong horse for the course.
Because some jobs do require physical courage, calm in the face of danger, clear thinking amid chaos. And captaining a ship has got to be one of them.
I know. You may think you’ve got “it”, but you never get to find out, because nothing bad ever happens. You get through your career with no opportunity to show your mettle.
Still, you would think that before choosing a career in which you might find yourself in life and death situations, in which you would have responsibility for the survival of others, you might do a bit of “know thyself'”-ing and figure out if you were up to it.
If you’re not, there are plenty of other careers open to you.
Most of us, of course, don’t have to make life and death decisions at work. Our challenges are more pedestrian: who to put on the lay-off list, what projects to cancel, putting an under-performer on notice, standing up to a bullying boss, owning up to a mistake you’ve made, pointing out a problem that everyone else seems to be ignoring. Sure, if takes courage, but it’s different when it’s livelihoods, not lives at risk. And when my life’s on the line, I want the person in charge to be Sully Sullenberger (to change transportation modes), rather than Francesco Schettino.
Maybe Schettino never thought things through. Maybe he decided to become a cruise ship captain after watching dubbed episodes of The Love Boat. Maybe he thought that it would be all Captain Stubing conferring with Gopher about whether Julie was falling too hard for the dashing young man in cabin 12C. Maybe he really didn’t get what he was signing up for.
Yes, you get the snappy white uniform, and a pretty good salary. You get to give the orders, and have people defer to you. And in return you get to be the one responsible, the one in charge of the tough choices, when things go awry.
However Schettino chose his path, it doesn’t appear that he had much self-awareness, leading him to make a pretty darned poor career choice. One that has had dire implications for many, many people.
Although I did read that Italian law does require a captain to stay with his ship*, in most jurisdictions jumping ship doesn’t make Francisco Schettino a criminal. It just makes him a person who was in the wrong job. That poor career choice has now been rectified: it’s doubtful he’ll be commanding anything more than a personal floatation device anytime soon.
* Huffington Post:
Maritime experts said the tradition of a captain standing by his ship isn't established in international maritime law. Some countries, like Italy, have included it in national laws.
Others respect it as "an unwritten rule or law of the sea," said Capt. Bill Wright, senior vice president of Marine Operations for the Royal Caribbean International cruise line.