Disaster on the Sea

by on November 21st, 2010
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COMMENTARY | Having never been on a cruise but looking forward to trying one, I’m cringing as I learn more about what happened on the ill-fated Costa Concordia. In this day and age, having a huge cruise ship sink is unfathomable. While all the details haven’t emerged, I’ve heard enough to be very disappointed in the crew and their response. All reports indicate that Captain Schettino left the ship and took refuge in a lifeboat while passengers remained onboard awaiting rescue. I feel confident the crew of the Costa Concordia received extensive training in dealing with emergencies. However, it’s obvious that the captain either panicked or simply didn’t follow his training.

While listening to the newly released tapes of the conversation between Captain Schettino and the Coast Guard, I can hardly contain my shock. You can feel the frustration and dismay of the Coast Guard representative upon learning that the captain was not only in a lifeboat but refusing to go back to the ship. I can certainly understand the captain and his crew being concerned for their own safety. However, to leave the ship with passengers still on board and refuse to go back and offer assistance is unforgivable. Various reports have stated that up to 100 passengers were still on the ship when the captain gave the “Abandon Ship” order. The conversation between the captain and the Coast Guard went on for about an hour; plenty of time for the captain to have returned to the ship, helped people, and still evacuated before it was too late.

I guess we never know exactly how we’ll react in a life or death situation, but I’d like to hope that human nature would lead us to do all we can to help others as well as protect ourselves. Do I think the captain and his crew should have sacrificed themselves? Absolutely not, but I do think they should have helped as many people as they could before thinking of themselves. When one takes a position of authority and leadership, it is expected that he will indeed lead. It’s easy to take command when things are going well, but the true sign of a good leader is being able to take command in adverse times. Captain Schettino was seriously lacking in the leadership department as far as I’m concerned.

Being in aviation, I can’t help but compare this situation to the US Airways landing on the Hudson River. Not only did Captain Sullenberger ensure all his passengers were evacuated, but he walked the length of the plane not once but twice ensuring no one was left behind. That had to seem like a very long walk as the aircraft was quickly filling up with icy water. Captain Sullenberger is a true leader, and he showed it that day.

Captain Schettino now faces criminal charges due to his actions. Worse than any court-induced punishment, he’ll have to live with the fact that he may have been able to save some of his passengers who lost their lives that fateful evening.

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