The oldest continuously publishing Maritime Journal, Lloyd’s List, has given its annual “Seafarer of the Year” Award to the crew of the Costa Concordia which partially sank off the coast of the small island of Giglio on January 13th this year.
In an unusual move, the award was given to the Concordia’s entire crew in recognition of their “true examples of courage and professionalism” as exhibited in a highly dangerous night evacuation of the 4,229 onboard passengers
Lloyd’s commented that “what was largely missed in the media storm that ensued were the genuine examples of bravery and professionalism displayed by members of the crew.”
Given that at least 32 guests died in this tragedy, it was not surprising that the ship’s, at times pathetic, captain, Francesco Schettino, was brought up on a range of serious charges including manslaughter. But there were few voices raised at the time in support of the crew and some of the heroism they displayed.
“I’d like to say that several hundred people owed their life to the expertise that the commander of the Costa Concordia showed during the emergency” Captain Schettino’s lawyer, Bruno Leporatti
TAKING A SECOND LOOK AT THE CONCORDIA TRAGEDY
By Travel Weekly Contributing Editor Richard Bruce Turen
I have never much liked bullies. And I particularly don’t like bullies who enjoy kicking someone when they are down. Bullies who kick someone when they are down while wearing press passes really make my skin crawl.
In my initial column on the Concordia tragedy, written immediately after the event, I suggested that we might all be advised to take a deep breath and allow the official inquiries to proceed before reaching any final conclusions about the performance of the crew and the reaction of the vessels owners and operators. But the notion of a bunch of “rich folks on a luxury vacation at sea”, as I heard one breathless local anchor describe it, was just too delicious for the mainstream media to resist.
And so it has come to pass, we are told, that the Costa brand, may not survive. First-time travelers will abandon the notion of cruising, Carnival’s stock will tumble, and the general public will be so filled with fear of the oceans that they will, instead, plop themselves down at an all-inclusive or visit the Caribbean by bus.
None of this has come to pass. There were some blips, but agents are largely reporting it is business as usual. But that is not to say that damage has not been done.
The proud Costa brand appeals to a significantly higher number of loyal repeat guests than media reports have indicated. Costa is a household name in Italy in the best sense of the word. In Italy you don’t do a cruise, you do a “Costa”.
Meanwhile, I have spent considerable time trying to find one shred of evidence that terminating the Costa brand is under serious discussion. There is none. It is a phony story without attribution.
When the non-travel media reports on an industry tragedy you have to expect exaggerations and inaccuracies. With just a few extremely rare exceptions, those who write on travel matters have never worked a day in the industry.
That is how ABC News Chief Investigative Reporter, Brian Ross, a man who usually does his homework, went on air in the days following the tragedy reporting that “a full hour after the tragedy occurred, the ship’s Captain was seated in the dining room asking for dessert and drinks for his female companion.”
The worldwide press has encouraged reporting that would make one believe that this “dashing Captain”, a known “womanizer”, and reckless “Italian-driver”, was more interested in making a first-night impression on his illicit “date.” But no one asked who, given the fact that the ship was listing and in the middle of a mass evacuation, who remained on dining room duty to serve the Captain his dessert?
Industry insiders know that an Italian crew is highly valued. But the media should understand that insurance companies have strict regulations governing the coverage of a $500 million floating investment and the person who manages it. So, by the way do the bankers who finance the project. It is ludicrous to believe that a Captain is selected based on his charm.
But that is not what ABC News was reporting. They had an interview with a so-called “maritime attorney” who lectured the camera that the cruise industry needed to “clean out risk takers.”
Now that is interesting. The media would have us believe that there are known swashbucklers out there, Captains who are known to management as Jack Sparrow types who just won’t follow orders. It makes for breathless and wholly inaccurate reporting.
Then there’s Geraldo Rivera of Fox News explaining to his official blog readers what really happened:
“that bum of a Captain were recklessly showboating…….How dare they drive that gigantic ship around like it was a flashy sports car they wanted to parade for the cute girls on the shore.”
By way of establishing his credentials to comment on the Concordia disaster, Geraldo points out that, as a sailor, he has “run aground literally scores of times in dozens of countries over the last half century.”
Of course, they are really taking this tragedy hard in Italy. Costa started sailing in 1854, carrying olives between Liguria and Sardinia. Many Italians feel a kind of visceral connection to the brand’s history and they will not soon abandon ship. But they needed a hero to emerge from this tragedy, just as every major event in Italian history must have a hero. In this case he is the handsome Coast Guard Captain Gregoria DeFalco, who “ordered” the despondent Captain Schettino in his lifeboat to “Get Back on Board for ______’s Sake.” It is a stronger phrase in Italian, complete with sexual connotation. Go to Italy and you will see Italians of all ages wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with the words “Vada a bordo, cazo.” Once again, Italy has managed to emerge with a hero capable of saving their dignity and sense of style.
But our sense of loss should not blind us to certain facts and possibilities.
Captain Schettino did, finally, steer sharply toward shore, getting the seriously wounded ship as close as possible to land. Many of the passengers were able to swim ashore. But the bigger picture is that on a ship that turned on its side and started sinking within twenty-six minutes of impact, crew managed to save and evacuate over four thousand passengers. Tragically, there was loss of life. There were some horrific errors of judgement. But it is true that an emergency evacuation that saved the lives of more than 99% of the passengers meant that a great many crew members did their jobs extremely well.
No one in the media, for instance, seemed to notice the Concordia’s Pilipino crew members, who were finally allowed to fly home to Manila where they were greeted as gentle heroes. By every account, they acted with discipline and with calm and Filipino cooks and cabin attendants roped themselves together to work as a team helping passengers escape. But that doesn’t fit in with the media’s contention that the crew did not know what it was doing.
Costa and the Carnival Corporation have not been able to properly respond. I can tell you that they certainly would not choose me to speak for them. But cruising is statistically safer than staying at home. We must, collectively. tell the truth to counter the falsehoods and exaggerations of the mainstream media bullies.