Photo courtesy Guardian - click for NBC News story
I'm sure that, in the firestorm following the sinking of COSTA CONCORDIA (Click "Capt. Schettino" and the various "Costa Concordia" links in the Categories column to the right side of the page), former Captain Francesco Schettino has been subjected to some unfair criticism - especially among the mainstream media and the public at large, where there is often a sketchy understanding of the maritime world. 

But Schettino invites an awful lot lot of that criticism by defending himself as he does in this interview. I've read several like it; and Schettino has also been talking up a forthcoming book in which he will tell the "real" story, presumably justifying himself along the same lines.

In the interview above, COSTA CONCORDIA's former Master says "I regret nothing" about his conduct after striking the rock. And indeed, some analysts have commended the crew for getting the ship close to shore before she sank. By selecting one part of the scenario that may have had some positive aspects - and focusing on that alone - he tries to claim that the criticism directed against him is unjust. 

This is twisted logic at best, since anyone can see the 800-lb gorilla that he's ignoring: Schettino, as Master, is responsible for the accident in the first place. In failing to take responsibility for that fundamental aspect of the situation, he makes anything else he might say irrelevant.

Reading on, it only gets worse. The former Captain blames the actual striking of the rock on the OOW; he belabors himself only for the fatal error of "trusting" someone else - something he says he'll never do again! It wasn't his fault; he was betrayed by an incompetent officer. He implies that the company made him trust his officers, against his better judgment. 

However, except for having been too trusting and naive - except for his having been, regrettably, almost too good a person - except for the poor conduct of his officers - excepting all those things which were not his fault, Schettino assures us, he takes full responsibility for the accident. 

The victims' family members hate him, he hints, because they've been unable to deal with the loss of their loved ones who died in the accident. It sounds as if he's saying that if only they'd been able to handle their pain in some better way, they wouldn't have reacted by irrationally hating him. Then he compares his own pain to theirs, putting himself on an equal footing. We're all victims here, and your pain is Schettino's pain!

A moment of silence during a Catholic Mass at Giglio to commemorate the Costa Concordia disaster - click photo for Mail Online story
If Schettino's book consists of more of the same, it will be a black eye for our industry. Self-serving reasoning and shifting blame don't constitute a defense; they only illustrate that Francesco Schettino has learned nothing. 

Let's hope that Costa, and the the cruise industry, has!
I just noticed this documentary, alerted by a link on the Naftrade site, though apparently it's been out there for a while. It's an interesting and apparently pretty accurate depiction - so far as it goes - of what happened the night COSTA CONCORDIA struck the rock and sank at Giglio (for a roundup of other news reports made at the time of the sinking, click the series of COSTA CONCORDIA links in the "Categories" listing on the right side of this page).

The documentary was made with the help of officers from Massachusetts Maritime Academy and California Maritime Academy,  and seems accurate with regard to the basic physical facts. As seamen, we have to remember that programs like this one, produced for consumption by the general public, can't delve too deep lest they confuse their audience - an audience that may have seen the movie "Titanic" but by and large knows little about ships and the sea.

One thing I noticed is that the experts in the documentary made no mention of use of the bow thruster to help maneuver COSTA CONCORDIA toward the shore - in their animation, the ship is moved only by the wind. I'd be interested to know whether this is because it has been ascertained that that maneuvering with the bow thruster never took place - or was it just a simplification of the facts for a non-technical audience? 

Here's an analysis by gCaptain's John Konrad, made immediately after the incident using initial AIS data, which would seem to support the idea that the bow thruster was used:
The Discovery documentary leans heavily on interviews with survivors, who describe their own experiences as they tried to board lifeboats or were forced to jump into the sea; it also includes cell phone video taken by the passengers, recording what went on around them at various points. The degree of heel as the ship canted over, and the panic generated among the passengers, are graphically shown in these passenger videos. Also incorporated in the Discovery program are snippets of the video someone had taken of events on the bridge up to the moment of the order to abandon ship (that video had been available on YouTube, but has since been blocked).

You and I - as professional mariners - are more interested in how the navigational decisions were made, how well bridge resources were utilized; and what was done, and what might have been done, after the event to preserve lives. I've also wondered what was going on in the Engineering spaces during this time. Much of this is still under investigation; Captain Schettino is still defending himself in court, and legal issues are still being settled. The Discovery video necessarily skirts most of this; still, it's interesting for what it is.

I'd be interested in your take - and if you know of other resources, especially with regard to the salvage operation, please let us know in the Comments section!
PictureMaimed Yemeni seaman Mohamad Abdulla Ali - click for TheNational story
I know everyone's heard about the rescue, just before Christmas, of the 22 surviving sailors on MV Iceberg 1. Those men had been held by Somali pirates since March of 2010 - a total of 33 miserable months! 

The men were finally freed by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF), a UAE-financed force meant to combat piracy on the ground in Puntland. It's said that the owner of the Iceberg's cargo (and not the shipowner, Azal Shipping of Dubai) paid $1.5 million to the Puntland government for the operation. 

Azal had abandoned the ship and crew early on, either because the company lacked the funds to ransom the crew, or because they were unwilling to pay the price. I read that in one ransom negotiation, the pirates asked for $3.5 million and Azal countered by offering $300,000. Either Azal were not seriously negotiating - playing fast and loose with innocent men's lives - or else, Azal is a very poorly-financed or poorly-run shipping company! Azal also stopped the men's pay after their capture, adding to the stress and suffering of their families. Any prudent seaman should think twice before accepting employment with Azal Shipping in future - or any other company with a similar record. 

(I hope pretty soon to be able to suggest a mechanism by which companies like this can be exposed and tracked, so that seamen seeking employment can see which companies have taken care of their men and which ones haven't - but more on that in a later post.)

If you've been following the MV Iceberg 1 case, either in the news or on the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group website, you know that the captives have suffered absolutely horrific treatment over the last 33 months. They've been subjected to extremely close confinement with no fresh air, exercise, even little sunlight; and they've been routinely deprived of food and clean water. In addition they've been subjected to regular beatings, torture, psychological abuse and death threats - even maimings, such as Yemeni seaman Mohamad Abdulla Ali having his ears sliced. It was all too much for Yemeni 3rd officer Wagdi Akram, who in despair committed suicide over two years ago. But all the survivors carry scars, on their bodies and on their souls. 

How would you or I react to such treatment? We never really know until we're forced to face it. As a young patrol boat crewman, I remember our POW training before being sent to Vietnam back in the 1960s. I was a foolish, fit young 19-year-old at the time, and thought nothing could beat me! But our short week of survival and POW camp training quickly humbled me. And we were primarily outside and active, even in the mock POW camp. We also knew it was only an exercise, and we knew the time limit. 

The men of MV Iceberg 1 have been exposed to far more debilitating treatment, for a far longer time - and the same goes for all the men in pirate captivity. Daily, indeterminate misery, with no end in sight - sometimes beginning to believe, as several of the Iceberg captives stated, that no one is ever going to come for you, or that your suffering can end only in death - that experience would sap the strongest spirit. 

Stories of pirate captivity often relate how shipboard discipline breaks down, each man for himself; some men even going over to the pirate side, out of self-interest or due to the "Stockholm syndrome". Until we're tested ourselves, we don't know who we might become, or what we might do, under those conditions.

But some men pass the test! There was at least one such man on the MV Iceberg 1: First Officer Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari. Mr. Tiwari seems never to have forgotten his responsibility to his men as a senior officer, second-in-command of the ship. According to the men who were rescued last month, Mr. Tiwari repeatedly placed himself in harm's way to protest the mistreatment of others in the crew, drawing upon himself many beatings as a result. He also acted as spokesman for the crew, as testified by recorded phone calls and video interviews such as the one above. 

At 27 - still a young man - he showed the kind of courage, steadiness, and care for his men that every Master should display. I've no doubt that, if he yet survives, he will become one. 

"If" he survives? Yes - sadly, Mr. Tiwari was not rescued with the others, and his whereabouts and condition are unknown. This hero disappeared from the ship in September, 2011, after a severe beating. Members of the crew who inquired about him were told by the pirates that they did not know where he had gone - an unlikely story. 

Some of the crew thought that the pirates may have been hiding the fact that Mr. Tiwari had been murdered, but at this point no one knows. He could still be held ashore - perhaps he was taken off the ship because he persisted in standing up to the pirates. But, since the last group of pirates who were holding the ship eluded capture and can't be questioned, we may not learn the truth for some time. The Puntland government has pledged to find them, but that may be difficult.

Dheeraj Tiwari's family, led by his father Purushottam Tiwari, are appealing for news of their son. Admittedly, it's unlikely that any of us will be able to help the family directly. But if anyone reading this comes across any news, or hears anything that could be of any help to this brave man or his anxious family, please relay it immediately to the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group Facebook page - I know that members of the Tiwari family are monitoring the Facebook page, and I'll ensure that they hear about it. 

Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari courageously stood up for others - let's do anything we possibly can for him!