Since the grounding of cruise ship Costa Concordia in January 2012, The Crew Report has been following the subsequent trials which have led to the criminalisation of the master, Captain Francesco Schettino, who has been criticised in the media for his role in, and actions following, the accident. The manslaughter trial has since heard that, after the vessel hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio, Captain Schettino became ‘completely lost’ as a result of shock. Two of the navigation officers on board have spoken out about how the captain became indecisive after receiving reports that the ship was taking on water and officers were urging him to issue the abandon ship order.

“He was completely lost,” told First Officer Giovanni Iaccarino, the first witness called by the prosecution in the case against the master. “He was out of his routine mental sate. He was under shock. He wasn’t the person I knew.” Further to this statement, Navigation Officer Simone Canessa said that Captain Schettino had shown chronic indecision as he contemplated the loss of his ship. “I was saying to him very insistently that he needed to do something, to give the general emergency signal, but he was telling us to wait,” he told the court. It has been reported that it took the captain about an hour before the order to abandon ship was given.

Speaking to Captain Mike Hitch of motoryacht Golden Odyssey, he highlighted the problem with captains in Captain Schettino’s situation making crucial decisions. “If a captain has a crash, you go into complete shock,” explains Captain Hitch. “Sometimes if you have a car crash, it is not quite an outer body experience, but you feel like you are floating. If you imagine Captain Schettino – this has just happened – I reckon the immediate shock would have been horrendous. The fact that he escaped in a lifeboat is perhaps a little bit unforgivable in my honest opinion, unless his life was in absolute danger, which it probably wasn’t.”

"If you had crashed a cruise ship like that with 4000 people on board, unless you are super human, you are not going to be thinking straight. So it is sensible to move the captain out of the way."

But Captain Hitch believes that there could be a pertinent lesson to draw from this incident. “There have been discussions at Warsash that in future, anytime something like this happens, is that the captain has to be removed straightaway from the scene,” he continues. “Everybody says that the captain should stay there and manage the emergency, but this guy is now in shock. If you had crashed a cruise ship like that with 4000 people on board, unless you are super human, you are not going to be thinking straight. So it is sensible to move him out of the way and immediately the chief officer or whoever is next in charge takes control of the emergency.”

The maritime industry could also be benefitting from procedures followed in the airline industry, Captain Hitch suggests. “The airline industry is very well-prepared for this because when things go wrong, they don’t have a lot of time at all,” he asserts. “So what they do is they work from checklists because checklists will slow you down. When there is adrenaline pumping through you and your mind is racing at 500 miles an hour, the only thing you can do is a checklist. It slows everything down rather than trying to do everything at once because you can’t think straight.”

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