While a captain is seen as commander-in-chief of a boat, whether or not he or she can go to prison for abandoning ship is not clear cut. In addition to standards set out by the International Maritime Organization, every ship is subject to the laws of the country it is registered to, known as its “flag state.”
Many cruise boats are registered or licensed to the Bahamas, for example, even if they sail in the US or Europe. The Costa Concordia ship sailed under the Italian flag, however, meaning that Italian law will determine the fate of Captain Francesco Schettino.
Under US law, a captain who abandons ship might not be charged criminally or serve jail time. But under Italian, Spanish, and Greek law, leaving a ship before passengers and crew are accounted for is considered a maritime crime, reports CNN.
In addition to international law and flag state law, every ship is subject to the laws of the country where a boat is in port.