Costa Concordia captain: symbol of the era?
The Concordia captain's missteps and failure to take responsibility have spurred deeper discussion about a dearth of moral leaders.
When the Titanic went down in 1912, the orchestra was reportedly playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
When the Costa Concordia began to sink off the Italian coast on Jan. 13, Celine Dion’s tribute to the Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On,” had just been playing in the dining room.
The Titanic cataclysm in the freezing north Atlantic is magnitudes greater on history’s scale than last week's accident off Giglio Island, but as details emerge, so do similarities: Both disasters are seen as exemplifying a misplaced confidence of unsinkability and the presumed impossibility of human error.
The Titanic symbolized the end of 19th century's arrogant assumptions of infallibility, and the mass attention paid to Concordia may speak of a world yearning for strong leadership and instead watching a captain abandon his ship to save himself.
"Concordia has become a morality play for how we feel about leadership,” says Paul Bickley, senior researcher at Theos, a public theology think tank in London. “Across Europe and among higher eschelons of society there is a perception that leaders are increasingly selfish, and not helping those in need. We've called it a leadership pathology. Even before the details came out, many people assumed or suspected this captain jumped ship.”
Go down with the ship? Not in this century.
In a 2010 interview, Concordia captain Francesco Schettino actually compares modern cruises to the Titanic, saying, “These days, everything is much safer… It is easier to navigate thanks to modern technical instruments and the Internet.”
In the same interview, he said he regularly “diverges from standard procedures … I enjoy moments when something unpredictable happens, when you can diverge a bit from standard procedures … It’s a challenge to face, I enjoy it.”
Mr. Schettino seems to miss the 19th century grit of his Titanic colleague who went down with the ship. He was not at the helm, despite ordering a deviation from the ship's course. He was supposed to stay with his ship; He says he tripped and fell into a life boat while hundreds were still on board.
The 117,000-ton Costa Concordia slammed into rocks two hours into a seven-day Mediterranean cruise while passengers were eating dinner at 9:30 p.m. The $450 million vessel, part of the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet, is a theme park on top of a luxury hotel. When it hit the rocks, a magic show was playing.
Now underwater footage of the ship’s corridors show the detritus of tablecloths, suitcases, and toys swirling in the watery ether. At least 11 people are dead and at least 20 are still missing.
This is the reality version of Gilligan’s Island, where Ginger and the professor intended to go for only a “three-hour cruise” on the S.S. Minnow. Part of the story's fascination is that it could seemingly happen to anyone.
'Go on board!'
In this case, Schettino's disconnection from and denial of the tragedy is a main story line. He maintains he is a captain who did get the boat close to shore and who otherwise is described as having a fine career.
Reports have Schettino sailing close to the island either to show off the liner to the family of the Costa's head waiter, who is from the island, or to salute a former cruise ship captain.