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Is the Captain of the Concordia a coward for abandoning ship?

It is bad enough that, at last count, 12 souls have perished and 20 people are still missing from the Costa Concordia cruise ship that listed and sank off the coast of Italy last week. The loss is compounded by allegations that the captain, Francesco Schettino, abandoned ship before all passengers were able to escape and gave excuses as to why he did this.

Debris from the cruise ship Costa Concordia is washed up as the vessel lies stricken in the background off the coast of the island of Giglio on January 20, 2012 in Giglio Porto, Italy.
Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

The relatively safe cruise industry is taking a pounding for this latest disaster at sea and the public is astounded at the actions of this captain, who was ordered by the coast guard to get back on the ship and attend to passengers. He did not get back on board and later said that he fell into a lifeboat. He is now so hated that t-shirts are being sold that say "Get back on board, for ....'s sake!" in Italian.

Is 'Going down with the ship' legally enforceable?

I wanted an answer to the question I had been wondering about so I tweeted James (Jim) Walker @cruiselaw and asked:

"If a captain abandons ship, is it a legally enforceable crime (in US & worldwide), and if yes, what is the charge?"

I immediately received the following response:

"abandonment crime in Italy & other European countries-yes; in US-no; but civil liabilities in US; dates back to Medieval times." He added, "captain's duty dates back to Medieval Seas Codes + Laws of Oleron, implicit in International Maritime Organization IMO."

So basically this means that in the U.S. if a captain abandons ship, it is not a crime, but in certain European countries, it is. See below for links to the Laws of Oleron and IMO. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime safety treaty that was enacted in 1914 as a result of the Titanic disaster. It enumerates safety procedures for all merchant vessels, including use of lifeboats.

Investigating further, I found that Schettino is under house arrest after having been charged in Italy with the following crimes. I quote from Maritime Security Review:

a) 113, in conjunction with Ciro Ambrosio, 449(2) in reference to Art. 428, 589(3) of the Penal Code, for having, in co-operation with one another, Schettino as captain of the ship Costa Concordia, Ambrosio as first deck officer (responsible for the watch) – owing to culpable behaviour consisting of imprudence, negligence and incompetence and in violation of the regulations of the sector (and in particular of Art. 6 of Law No. 1085 of 27 December 1977, for having maintained a speed over 15 knots, even though in the proximity of obstacles, in a way such as not to be able to act in an appropriate and efficient manner so as to avoid collisions and to halt the craft within a distance appropriate to the circumstances and to the conditions of the moment), caused the shipwreck of the said Costa Concordia, at the same time thus causing the death of Tomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, Jean Pierre Micheaud and Francis Servel, who, fallen overboard, perished due to drowning or due to hypothermia.

b) 81(1) and 591 of the Penal Code, for having abandoned about three hundred persons (passengers on the cruise ship Costa Concordia), unable to fend for themselves in particular, since still aboard the said motor ship, in the process of shipwreck and in the night-time, who he was supposed to take care of inasmuch as captain of the said motor ship.

c) 1097 of the Code of Navigation, for not having been the last to leave the motor ship Costa Concordia of which he was captain, during the abandonment of the same (in danger, being in the process of shipwreck).

As of now, the maximum Schettino can get is 15 years in prison. We'll see if charges are increased when those who are now missing, are hopefully found.

What do you think? Is Captain Schettino a coward for abandoning his crew and passengers aboard the Concordia, or is drowning too much to ask of a person just doing a job?

Do you think this should be an offense punishment by law in the U.S.?

Let us know your comments, below.

FOR MORE INFO: Cruise Law News
Laws of Oleron
(In'tl. Maritime Organization)

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