Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Captain's Code

Photo by Roberto Vongher.

The Costa Concordia disaster this week has called into question the actions of the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino. Two issues stand out: the fact that the ship was off its designated trackline, and Schettino's actions in ordering and overseeing the abandoning the vessel. Monday night, I was interviewed on these topics on CBC's Connect with Mark Kelly. A transcript follows. For the complete report, see the Connect with Mark Kelly website.

KELLY: Yes, the seas can be unpredictable, but human nature can be worse. So, how can you protect a ship from that? Capt. Rob Earle has been in the merchant marine for 15 years, he joins us tonight from Seattle. Thanks for coming on to talk to us tonight. Let me get your read on this story here, because everyone’s pointing the finger at the captain here tonight for a massive screw up at least that’s what it certainly appears to be. What are the failsafe technology that is in here to prevent this kind of thing happening?

EARLE: Well, there's technology and there’s procedures. You have all sorts of equipment on the bridge and these days it’s all integrated. And you can set alarms on the GPS, on the radar, on the depth finder, on the electronic charts and there's also how you use your human resources, what’s called bridge resource management. You have one person looking out and one person steering, maybe one person taking a fix on the chart, that varies depending on whether you’re in the open ocean, or going up a wide river or something like that, the amount of attention that’s paid and the number of people you have. But al the procedures in the world and all the wonderful equipment in the world are useless if you don’t follow those procedures or you don’t use that equipment properly.

KELLY: So when you hear of something like this on this scale and this size of a ship like this, with a cargo of 4000-plus passengers, how does that strike you from your vantage point from a guy with your experience?

EARLE: Well, the first, to be honest, whether you're on s small fishing boat or a cruise ship like this if you work in this kind of environment, you get this sick feeling in your stomach, that’s the first thing when you hear something like this has happened. But unfortunately it happens too often, like last year, late last year, down in New Zealand you had the container ship Rena go aground on a reef there, and the Shen Neng 1 the year before that hit the Great Barrier reef. So all this equipment all these procedures, even the most experienced mariner; you feel like it could happen to you, so you try not to judge too harshly until all the facts are in.

KELLY: Yeah, I guess you also don’t want to walk a mile in those moccasins, but I'm curious to know because so many people are also focusing on this idea that here was one of the first guys to get off that ship and one of the things he has been charges with by police down there is abandoning ship. What is the code? We were making fun of it earlier with the Titanic but we do have this sort of thing in our mind that the captain always goes down with the ship. Obviously, he's not going down with it, but should he be the last one on board to ensure there is at least a safe evacuation?

EARLE: Well, if he’s not the last one he should certainly be one of the last ones off. If you’re putting people into the lifeboats, it’s my experience it’s the captain’s job to be in the last boat.  You want to get everybody off; you don’t want to go down with the ship if you don’t have to. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this way, you talked about this incident off South Africa in 1991, and it was the entertainers on board – the last two crew members on board were entertainers – because they were the ones to get the more than 500 people off that ship.

KELLY: Unbelievable, This guy is trying to say he could coordinate better from a beach bar close by. I think people are having a hard time swallowing that one.

Related Articles
Corriere della Serra, Crew Mutinied on Behalf of Passengers
gCaptain Op/Ed, The Captain of the Costa Concordia is Totally Screwed.


  1. There was a clear order form the local harbor authority asking him to go back and he refused!

    George Marikas
    Merchant Marine Education

  2. @George: When I was speaking to the producer of the show beforehand, I said that it seemed to me Schettino didn't really have a grasp of the situation. The more I hear about him, the more I believe that. Key facts in this investigation will be WHY his situational awareness was compromised and WHEN that first occurred.

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