Taking the Blame

I’m not posting this for commentary on Schettino or the Costa Concordia but for the points it brings up about cruise ships in general.

Namely, is it practical to think it’s possible to evacuate even a majority of the passengers in a true emergency?

The evacuation of the MRS Oceanios worked out fine despite the crew.

of course that is very conditional on the nature of the emergency and the attitude of the ship while embarking passengers into survival craft but my opinion is that the cruise industry has opened itself up to the potential of a massive loss of life with these newest generation ships carrying many thousands of people.

let’s not consider fire at the moment but just a ship in danger of sinking like the COSTA CONCORDIA. give a situation of a severely listing ship rapidly changing its attitude then I very much doubt very many passengers could be embarked and gotten off. in a situation like that there will be panic as people try to rush the boats. with widespread panic it would be very difficult to maintain command by the personnel at the boats and eventually it would breakdown and end up every person for themselves. those on the CC were EXTREMELY lucky that the vessel drifted ashore before it began to lay over. Had that occurred out in deeper water where the ship had not grounded first the death toll aboard would have been many hundred if not in the thousands

Joseph Conrad, on the dangers of “bigger is better:”

Apparently, there is a point in development when it ceases to be a true progress–in trade, in games, in the marvellous handiwork of men, and even in their demands and desires and aspirations of the moral and mental kind. There is a point when progress, to remain a real advance, must change slightly the direction of its line.

From “Some Reflections on the Loss of the Titanic” (1912)

Worth reading, even today. On line at:



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Interesting read. From the article:

“A man may do his best, but he cannot succeed in a task which from greed, or more likely sheer stupidity, has been made too great for anybody’s strength.”

We have in hindsight information which Schettino did not have at the time, that the ship would settle sufficiently upright to allow many passengers and crew to escape. He may have believed on some level that he faced what was likely an impossible task, safely evacuation a large modern cruise ship.

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There were only 500 odd passengers on MTS Oceanus, who were cared for by the heroic entertainment staff. Even so, some of the passengers simply gave up and became helpless victims who wanted death more than they wanted rescue, even when they were in the process of being rescued by professionals. Its a miracle that they made it through. Modern Cruise ship with thousands of sick, mobility impaired, and elderly passengers… what are the chances that a drill can be conducted without indecent, much less an emergency? Can you count on the housekeeper who’s lost 17% of her own body weight from overwork during a single workset to look out for anyone else? Get real. This industry is antithetical to SOLAS.


He may have believed that. If I had been transported into his shoes, I would have. But he’s still a coward.

We may struggle to precisely define ‘duty’, but we know it isn’t that.

I was just commenting on his situation, it wasn’t intended as a defense or otherwise of Schettino. I am not going to judge his character, I’ll leave that to others.

The captain is responsible for the safety of the passengers, crew and ship, this being a professional mariners forum I assumed that didn’t need to be said.

As far as blame or Schettino’s legal situation, that’s outside my area of expertise.

. After the outcome is clear, any attribution of error is a social and psychological judgment process, not a narrow, purely technical or objective analysis.
•Richard Cook and David Woods

The fact that Schettino may have believed he faced an impossible situation is useful information that increases understanding. It’s a technical point, not a judgment process.

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Would you agree that many cruise ships in a real evacuation scenario would put the captain in a position to feel like his situation is impossible? Does anyone know of a situation where a cruise ship’s passengers have abandoned in a controlled, ordered, effective way? When I was looking at the merchant casualties during the first part of WWII I found a number of cases where things went more, or less pretty well during passenger evacuations. But those passenger manifests were relatively small, and the people were relatively able bodied, and the crew were physically stronger than most of us are now.

I didn’t have an opinion about it one way or the other till I read Conrad’s essay on the Titanic at the link Earl provided. The essay is worth a careful read.

Conrad’s strongest words were in response to some critics who were evidently saying that captain White was a coward for allegedly committing suicide.

[quote=“Emrobu, post:11, topic:44962, full:true”]
…Does anyone know of a situation where a cruise ship’s passengers have abandoned in a controlled, ordered, effective way?[/quote]

I can recall only one cruise ship evacuated on high seas, the ‘Achille Lauro’, an MSC cruise ship.
An engine room fire started 100 NM off the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean on November 30, 1994.

Nearly 1000 persons were evacuated to the waiting tanker ‘Hawaiian King’. The cruiser ‘USS Gettysburg’ provided meals and other help to the people on the tanker’s deck, during their voyage to Djibouti…

There were two deaths during the evacuation, an infarct and a head injury from an object falling into the lifeboat.

The ship sunk two days later under tow, after an explosion.