Capt. Francesco Schettino - click photo for gCaptain story
Things look gloomier for Capt. Francesco Schettino, Master of COSTA CONCORDIA. He was released from house arrest some time ago, but still faces charges ranging from manslaughter to misrepresenting his ship's damage to maritime authorities. 

Now new evidence has come to light proving that Schettino purposely lied to the Coast Guard and his own passengers - delaying the ship's evacuation and possibly costing lives.

As you'll remember, 30 people are known dead in the tragedy; two are missing and presumed dead; and 64 were injured. Two passengers and the ship's injured Purser were rescued from the ship more than 24 hours after the accident. 

Schettino was taking the ship close to Giglio Island in a salute or "inchino" manuever which he'd done with COSTA CONCORDIA several times before. Indeed, he claimed in one interview that he'd been told by Costa Cruises to do the maneuver. Costa ships COSTA PACIFICA and COSTA ALLEGRA had also come close to the island in similar salutes, so it may be that the risky close passes were considered routine by Costa. 

Capt. Schettino also had a personal reason to do the salute. A retired Costa Master was on Giglio watching the ship come past, and was talking on the phone with Schettino at the time - a call that may have distracted him.  

See "Costa Concordia AIS" in the Categories column to the right side of the page for the AIS track of the accident along with commentary from gCaptain's John Konrad. Chilling!

[POST EDIT: I had trouble getting the Vimeo video of the AIS and commentary on gCaptain's site to play for some reason; so here is the direct link to that video. Well worth watching, as you can see exactly where COSTA CONCORDIA is as the incident progresses, and Capt. Konrad does a seamanlike job of explaining what is happening during the animation.]

It's certain that Schettino was neglecting many accepted tenets of prudent navigation: plot your course, maintain situational awareness, have multiple means to identify your position, don't take needless chances, don't allow yourself to become distracted. He'd gotten away with it in the past. But the result this time was evident for all the world to see.

Damage to COSTA CONCORDIA's port side - click the photo to go to Discovery News story
I'd previously read that the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) had not been working (click on "Costa Concordia Black Box" in the Categories listing to the right of the page). But that seems not to have been true. 

Stories from Discovery News, gCaptain, and The Vancouver Sun, among many others, broke the news this week that "black box" recordings obtained by La Stampa newspaper in Italy show Schettino crying out "Madonna, what have I done?" right after striking the rock at 2145, and "So are we really going down?" to the Engineer on watch a few minutes later. 

Yet at 2154, just minutes after that remark, Schettino is heard ordering an officer not to tell the passengers what had really happened: "Say that there has been a blackout." And minutes later, he reported to the Coast Guard, "We've had a blackout, we're just evaluating - at most we're going to need a tug boat." He seems to have been simply unable to face the facts. 

And yet, he did know the truth. Schettino to his wife as the evacuation finally got underway: "We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great manoeuvre - everything is under control." But then he added: "My career as a captain is over."

Click for Vancouver Sun story
I've never had to face such a situation, thank God - so I don't know exactly what I'd do. But a lifetime of observing the US Coast Guard has taught me one thing: it's better to tell the whole unvarnished truth first time around, than to leak it out or spin it. That's certain trouble! I'm sure the Italian Coast Guard, or the Coast Guard anywhere, is the same. As some US politicians have had reason to learn, there's the crime, and then there's the cover-up - and the cover-up is infinitely worse. 

I hope in a similar situation, I'd spit out the whole truth and let the chips fall where they may! Of course, you should never state that you take any sort of blame - leave legal matters like that to your company's lawyers. But a truthful statement to the Coast Guard of the undisputed facts of an incident will serve both you and your company better than any shading of the truth. Francesco Schettino is about to find that out.

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