At the end of Titanic, it seemed like all there was to worry about was how Rose’s heart was going to go on after Jack-the-popsicle sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. But the credits didn’t start rolling quite so soon after the Costa Concordia ran aground and toppled over near the coast of the Tuscan island Giglio on January 13. No, this cruise ship crash has left a host of questions that Celine Dion just can’t answer. For instance:
– Did Captain Francesco Schettino let his ego get away from him as he ordered the 950-ft ship too close to shore (photo-op, anyone?), or was he just trying to save dozens – or thousands, depending on who you ask – of lives by steering closer to shore after hitting a rock?
– Why was a previous cruise on August 14, 2011, following a similar course, able to make its way past the island unscathed?
– When the ship hit the reef, was Captain Schettino acting negligently or were the ship’s electronic charts not up to date?
– Why, in an era when ships are designed to sink levelly, did the ship capsize so catastrophically?
– Where were all of the experienced officers when it was time to fill the lifeboats?
– Does anyone really slip, fall (into a life boat), and accidentally make his way back to shore?
Currently, the answers to these questions all depend on who you ask – Captain Schettino? Passengers’ attorneys? Costa Cruise Company? The answers to these questions also depend on when in the legal process you asked them. For instance, Costa Cruise was quick to publically state that the cruise ship had been following the same course that it does fifty-something times a year when it hit a rock and tipped. However, when it became clear that the company would face fewer liabilities – legally and publically – by claiming human error, their story changed in order to distance themselves from Captain Schettino. The first story, from Gianni Onorato, president of the Costa cruise company, was that the ship had been sailing its “regularly scheduled itinerary” from Civitavecchia to Savona, Italy, when it struck “a submerged rock.” He said Captain Schettino “immediately understood the severity of the situation” and “performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew” (BBC News). Later, however, Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman of Costa Crociere S.p.A., claimed that “This route was put in correctly… The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa.”
Looks like coastguard Gregorio de Falco wasn’t the only one who was going to let Captain Schettino drown. In a radio transcript between the two men, De Falco was heard arguing, “Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for sure. Go aboard.”
Yet, even Captain Schettino changed his story, saying first that the rocks were undetected on the ship’s navigation system and later admitting to a personal navigational error, that upon sailing close to the island he had “ordered the turn too late” to avoid collision. Who knows if this change will affect the outcome of his own charges in court: manslaughter, negligence resulting in a shipwreck, and abandoning ship (another story that has again been told many different ways).
But the one of the most interesting facets of the whole ordeal has been the jurisdictional and regulatory pickles that have emerged from the wreckage.
Costa Concordia is owned by the U.S. company Carnival Corporation, based in Miami and London. But the ship crashed in Italian waters and all passengers upon purchasing tickets drastically limited their own rights and agreed to sue in Italian courts. Many passengers have nevertheless sought legal aid through U.S. attorneys bent on getting their customers – in U.S. court – more than the 71,000$ per passenger, which was the legal top Costa’s contract allows for death, personal injury and property loss (no retribution for psychological damage). It remains to be seen whether U.S. courts will accept jurisdiction, overriding the fine print of the corporation’s contracts, in order to protect the signed-away rights of aggrieved passengers. However, international treaties and U.S. law have been historically ambiguous and lenient towards cruise companies.
Furthermore, accounts of the evacuation, where uneducated passengers were left mysteriously without higher officials to board themselves chaotically into lifeboats, have been bringing up a lot of questions regarding the loosely defined international regulation of cruise ships. A U.N. agency, the International Maritime Organization, has the power to oversee maritime safety, yet has no policing powers. With no single power in charge, crime, pollution, safety, and health violations have passed unchecked for years. Not to mention, the ships themselves are certified and inspected by “independent classification societies” – anyone notice a parallel to the recent financial crisis, here? Nautilus International, a maritime union, has been waiting for just this sort of disaster to bring up suits on the shaky regulatory scheme. Can’t wait to see what they come up with.
All these questions and we haven’t even mentioned the potential ecological disaster that could spill tons of oil – not to mention a huge ship – into the Mediterranean if crews are not successful in emptying the ship’s fuel tanks, towing, and dismantling the ship before it shifts over into deeper waters.
So, Celine Dion, should we expect any catchy tunes to over-simplify this mess?