Global News Blog
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Not far from here at least 500,000 Africans took their first steps into slavery in colonial Brazil, which took in far more slaves than the United States and where now half of its 200 million citizens claim African descent.
The “Cais do Valongo” – the Valongo Wharf – was the busiest of all slave ports in the Americas and has been buried for almost two centuries under subsequent infrastructure projects and dirt.
That is, until developers seeking to turn Rio’s shabby port neighborhood into a posh tourist center allowed teams of archaeologists to check out what was being unearthed.
“We knew we had found the wharf,” says archaeologist Tania Andrade Lima, showing a ramp made up of knobbly, uneven stones used by slaves. It lay beneath a layer of smoother cobblestones from a dock installed later for the arrival of a Portuguese royal.
Ms. Lima and other community leaders are creating a walking tour that will include the wharf, a nearby cemetery for Africans who died soon after their arrival, and a holding pen called the “Lazareto,” derived from Jesus’ parable about a beggar named Lazarus, where newly arrived Africans were checked for diseases.
The wharf alone is nearly 22,000 square feet. “This gives a dimension to how huge the influx of slaves was,” says Lima.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.
When journalists from around the world report on a speech by a sitting US president – such as President Obama’s state of the union speech last night – they do so with their own particular reading public in mind. The effect, for a global reader, can be confusing. Did Mr. Obama really say all of this in one speech?
For Chinese readers, Obama is reported to have boasted that the US is not, repeat not, declining.
For Indian readers, Obama promised to take on China and other nations that were engaged in theft of US intellectual property.
For the French, Obama was announcing his roadmap for reelection, while for the British he gave a populist speech promising a fairer America.
From a closer reading of his one hour and six minute speech, Mr. Obama does appear to have said all of these things, and a few more. But the fact that the press in each country has its own idea of what is newsworthy in a state of the union should not be surprising. It speaks volumes about how US foreign and economic policy affects that country, for better or worse.
China’s interest in America’s future makes sense. China is the US’s second-largest trading partner, and America’s ability to kickstart its economy is crucial for China’s own prosperity. US economic weakness is bad for Chinese business.
Small wonder, then, that the China Daily – Beijing’s main English-language newspaper – focused its attention on Obama’s confident statement, “The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe."
"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said in his prime-time address.
Indian papers, meanwhile, saw in Obama’s tough words against intellectual piracy a reflection of its own rivalry with China. Both India and China have emerged as new economic and manufacturing bases, as more established economic powers in Europe and the America’s have slowed down. Both India and China have been competing for business and for resources in Africa, and both see themselves as the voice of the world’s impoverished, symbolized in their membership in the BRICS group of new economic powers (including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
But for India and China, power is a zero-sum game, and India revels in any sign of trouble for China.
That’s why an Indian newspaper like the Hindustan Times focuses on the China section of Obama’s speech:
"I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products," [Obama] said. "And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration -- and it's made a difference."
"It's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're heavily subsidized."
In South Africa, where the two main parties seem to have given up on speaking with each other, and instead bellow at their own constituencies, newspapers focused on the partisan divide in the US. The New Age, a newspaper that is openly close with the ruling African National Congress, headlined their story "Feisty Obama speech gets icy Republican reception."
For French papers, US political rhetoric is a mystery that must be studied for hidden meanings. Like Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe, entitled “This is not a pipe,” American political promises are statements that must be seen as more than they appear to be.
The Paris-based newspaper, Le Monde, is perhaps the most straightforward, in an article entitled “Barack Obama presents the roadmap for reelection.”
Faced with a Congress, where his Republican opponents are in a strong position, and nine months to seek a second term, Obama assured Americans that the U.S. was “getting stronger,” and he wanted to present plans for "…an economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded."
British papers saw reflections of their own social and economic struggles, with the left-leaning Guardian focusing on Obama’s description of a country “where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” and the more conservative Telegraph highlighted the swift and negative reaction of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who said, “A government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it.”
The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, focused on the portion of Obama’s speech dealing with the Middle East. America’s “ironclad commitment to Israel's security has meant the closest cooperation between our countries in history," the Post quoted Obama as saying. As for Iran, the Post noted that Obama still felt negotiation with the Ahmedinejad government was still worthwhile, but pointed out that Obama had added he would take "no options off the table" in ensuring the Iran does not create or receive nuclear weapons.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is famous for bluntly speaking his mind, and for shining the brightest in the midst of a crisis. But now Mr. Sarkozy faces a crisis that he may not surmount – his reelection – and he is bluntly saying his political career may be over.
The president even told his aides, with a slightly dark Nixonian note, that if he is not reelected in April, “I'll change my life completely, and you won't hear from me again."
"In any case, I am at the end," Sarkozy said on a trip back from French Guyana Monday night within earshot of reporters who leaked the conversation, despite it being off-the-record. "For the first time in my life I am facing the end of my career."
France is mired in economic doldrums, capped off with a downgrade of its triple-A credit rating earlier this month. Between that and socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who delivered a tub-thumping speech on Sunday that showed he can move a crowd, Sarkozy faces both a toughening race and poll numbers that may not improve enough by April.
Ironically, Sarkozy has not yet announced whether he will actually run. But his comments Monday suggest he will quit politics only after a political fight. If he doesn't run or runs and does not win, Sarkozy will become the first French president since the 1970s to serve only one term.
In polls this fall, roughly 30 percent of respondents said they would vote for Mr. Hollande in the first round – a strong lead over Sarkozy, with 24 percent.
Sarkozy could also lose conservative votes to Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in the first round of elections, and lose centrists to the now-surging candidacy of Francois Bayrou of Democratic Movement.
Hollande is running as an everyman candidate – “Mr. Normal,” as he calls himself. Sarkozy has sought to dramatize Hollande’s lack of office holding experience and to present himself as the man of experience and gravitas.
Sarkozy won office in 2007 as France’s youngest president, promising change or “rupture” from the past, and has been an indefatigable office holder, sometimes compared to the energizer bunny. He married Carla Bruni, a popular model and singer, recently became a new father, and travels widely in and out of Europe in an effort to restore French pride on the world stage, most notably with his leadership on Libya last spring.
But his personal style as a celebrity-president has been controversial, earning him the title of “President Bling Bling” and partly accounts for an oft-noted visceral dislike of him in France, where his disapproval rating runs close at close to 60 percent.
Dominique Moisi, a leading French intellectual at the French Institute for International Relations this week wrote that euro crisis Europe is in the mood to replace ruling governments. “Mr. Sarkozy seems the ideal prey for a left starved of power after so many years in opposition. The French president is rejected not so much for his performance as for his essence.… He seems to have lost the support of rather too many voters.”
But Turkish reaction was not especially calm.
After the French Senate voted in the late hours Monday to criminalize a denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide – punishable with a year in jail and a $58,000 fine – Turkey’s ambassador to France said he will leave.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today called the new law “discriminatory” and “racist” and a “massacre of free expression,” and pointed out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ancestors had once sought refuge in Turkey.
Something’s definitely out of whack in this diplomatic fallout. But it isn’t entirely Turkey’s inability to face its Ottoman past, which includes the killing or deporting of some 750,000 to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I.
“I’m sure we’ll find again a constructive relationship,” Mr. Juppe told French TV. “I put out my hand and I hope it will be shaken one day.”
In fact, there are actual reasons why Turkey might see fit to remain calm, as Juppe urges. This law really isn’t about Turkey. It’s French politics.
Turkish leaders take the genocide law as a matter of national dishonor and high principles, and point to French slaughters in Algeria, and speak of rights, including of independent thought, that France champions. It is highly emotional.
Yet in France the new genocide law is seen with considerable cynicism, and with little emotion or much regard. It comes just ahead of national elections this spring. Along with its slightly craven appeal to the hundreds of thousands of French-Armenian voters, for whom the issue has always been a defining one, the law also gives President Sarkozy a way to remind conservatives that he’s against a Muslim country joining Europe.
Mr. Sarkozy has a problem with a poll-surging Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, who accuses him of overseeing an “Islamization” of France.
The bill is "not entirely free of ulterior electoral motives considering that there is a 500,000-strong French Armenian community in France," as the French daily Liberation put it.
French politicos have portrayed their new legal concoction as part of a long, historic fight against a “poisonous denial” by the human race of various mass murders.
Yet as the Monitor noted in December, the only time France sees fit to raise this universal value is right ahead of its own elections: In 2001, it was just before elections that France recognized the Armenian genocide. In 2006, just before elections, French politicians nearly passed a five-year jail term for denying the genocide. Now, with the 2012 vote around the corner – voila! – a new law to jail Armenian deniers has taken shape.
The French senate passed the law with only 126 votes to 86, meaning the lion's share of 348 senators demurred or expressed reservations, reports Le Monde. The law goes into effect if Sarkozy signs off in late February.
French Senator Fabienne Keller said many of her peers who didn't vote Monday agree a genocide did take place. But they refused to vote since their work is not to “legislate about history…o r decide historical facts.” Ms. Keller, when asked by France 24 television if the new laws would allow prosecution of deniers of the Rwandan genocide, or of Algerian massacres by France at the end of World War II, both sensitive cases here, said that just such questions are why “we are not morally allowed to define the rules … in the Turkish-Armenian case.”
Most historians agree a genocide occurred in Turkey prior to the end of World War I, using the United Nations' definition of the term. The US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time, Henry Morgenthau, was distraught at the scale of the inhumanity, and wrote prolifically about the details in cables and articles. Yet the carnage was ignored for years as an inconvenient truth or lost in the overall shock of the “war to end all wars” – and earned the title of “the forgotten genocide.”
Turkey is officially adamant that the record is distorted or false.
That attitude is slowly and painfully changing, albeit in limited circles. Last year 150 intellectuals signed a letter apologizing to Armenians. Weeks ago at least 10,000 Turks marched in memory of the late Turkish writer Hrant Dink, who urged Turks to face up to history. However, in 2006 Mr. Dink said of French proposed denial laws that he’d rather dance up the Champs-Élysées denying the genocide than see such restrictive laws passed.
Both French and Turkish intellectuals argued that the effect of French laws will be to make it harder for Turkey to confront the emotional question and bring crack-backs against those in Turkey working toward that goal.
Nor has France been generally regarded among historians as a stellar example of facing history. Academics and intellectuals, in and out of France, and including the late Tony Judt of New York University, point to a French “serial denial” of its complicity with Nazi authorities in Vichy France, and its role in both colonial and post-colonial Africa.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
France is celebrating 600 years of its most famous daughter, Joan of Arc. A young peasant girl hearing heavenly voices, fierce yet compassionate and rising as a military leader to end a foreign siege, Joan of Arc still retains a hold on the French imagination.
Starting as a nobody, she broke nearly every 15th-century gender barrier. In 2012 she’s a Christian heroine in a secular state: For the right, a holy warrior of the sacred soil; on the left, a brave iconoclast fighting corrupt elites.
Now in Orléans, where in 1429 she instructed French generals how to kick out the British in nine days, there’s a year of conferences, films, art, music, and parades.
But a fight is brewing. In France, culture is politics, and this is an election year. Nationalists have long claimed Joan as theirs. She’s an icon for the far-right National Front, run by Marine Le Pen.
So on Joan’s official birthday, Jan. 6, President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Joan’s birthplace. “Joan belongs to no party, to no faction, to no clan,” Mr. Sarkozy said. Ms. Le Pen retorted that Sarkozy had abandoned Joan’s values, as well as French national sovereignty, seen in the “Islamization” of France.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.
Russia has closed a contract to sell half-a-billion dollars worth of warplanes to Syria, just the latest sign that Moscow intends to carry on business-as-usual with the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Moscow business daily Kommersant, the $550 million contract to purchase 36 Yak-130 Mitten combat trainers was signed in December, even as the 11-month-old uprising against four decades of rule by the Assad family was gathering steam and turning very bloody. According to United Nations estimates, more than 5,400 people have died since March, when the uprising began.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week dismissed any questions about Russian arms sales to Syria by saying "we don't consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any [UN] Security Council resolutions."
The European Union approved an arms embargo on Syria last year. The UN Security Council has sought to do the same, but has been blocked by Russia, which has veto power.
Experts say Russia has felt badly burned by Western-sponsored sanctions against selected Middle East regimes, which have cost Moscow some of its most lucrative customers, even as the US continues to negotiate huge arms sales to its own regional clients -- including recent deals worth $60 billion to Saudi Arabia and $3.5 billion to the United Arab Emirates.
According to the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT), Russia lost as much as $4.5 billion in broken weapons deals with Muammar Qaddafi's Libya and another $13 billion as a result of UN Security Council-approved sanctions that forced Moscow to cancel all its major arms contracts with Iran.
Russia is thought to have up to $5 billion in potential arms exports to Syria in the pipeline, including sales of warships, submarines, modern T-90 tanks, MiG-29 fighters, and Iskander-E tactical missiles.
"We have already made many shameful concessions to the West. Under pressure we refused to fulfill contracts we had duly signed and thus found ourselves in a humiliating situation," says Viktor Baranets, a former Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, who is now a columnist with the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"Russia's image was at stake, but we displayed weak will in the cases of Libya and Iran," he says. "Now we see the same script unfolding in Syria. The chain reaction of these so-called Arab spring revolutions will go on, they will manage to suppress Iran, and the world will turn its head into the direction indicated by the leader, the USA."
Kommersant cited a source close to the state arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, as saying production of the Yak-130s will begin at a Siberian factory as soon as a Syrian deposit on the deal is received.
The Yak-130 is Russia's most modern fighter/trainer, and experts say it can easily be converted to a combat role.
"Yak-130s are basically flying school desks, and 36 of these planes will hardly change the strategic situation in the region," says Igor Korotchenko, director of CAWAT. "But they are means to prepare pilots to fly modern planes, and so the Yak-130 serves as a preparation link which could lead to further sales of Russian light fighter bombers, such as the MiG-29 and possibly the MiG-35."
The political significance of the deal is that "Moscow has apparently put its stakes on the capacity of Syrian regime to settle its internal problems and stay in power," says Mr. Korotchenko. "After all, who would sign contracts with a regime they didn't think was going to last?"
I can think of any number of curious aspects of Warren Buffett's transmogrification into a Chinese pop star, but perhaps the oddest is that state-run TV here is using the 81-year-old Sage of Omaha to draw younger viewers.
Mr. Buffett, widely admired in China for his wealth, his investment instincts, and his charitable donations (probably in that order), made a cameo appearance playing a ukulele and singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad" as part of a marathon Chinese New Year gala aired Sunday.
The annual Spring Festival TV gala on the lunar New Year’s Eve is watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. But its heavily scripted diet of moralizing comedy sketches, spandexed acrobats, magicians, and goldfish showing off their synchronized swimming skills (one of last year’s highlights) no longer appeals to young people’s more sophisticated tastes.
So state-run CCTV decided to air a hipper extended gala show online, and that is where Buffett comes in.
“We all know that Buffett is good at investment, but few knew he also did well in singing,” Wang Pinjiu, one of the show’s producers, told a press conference earlier this month, according to Xinhua, the government news agency.
The video clip is one he made for a charity dinner last year organized by media investor Wu Zheng and his TV presenter wife Yang Lan, according to a spokeswoman for Mr. Wu.
When CCTV asked Wu to rope some international talent into the online gala he asked Buffett for permission to air the video, and he agreed, the spokeswoman said.
Buffett is not shy about his musical talents; he has been heard playing the ukulele at Berkshire Hathaway events, and he appears in a US TV commercial for an insurance company that he owns, masquerading as Axl Rose. Not, to be frank, that his appearance offers much evidence of “doing well in singing.”
He is also well known in China, both as a major investor in BYD, a Chinese firm hoping to spearhead the electric car revolution here, and as an investment guru whose books are popular with local businessmen.
Buffett caused something of a stir in 2010 when he visited China with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in a bid to rustle up support from Chinese billionaires for charitable work, which is still in its infancy among the super-rich here. It took a while for some of the guests to accept his invitation to a banquet; it seemed they were nervous about being hit up for donations at the dinner.
Oprah's here - but Salman Rushdie is not.
The fifth annual Jaipur Literature Festival has for a few years now attracted more and more major literary and cultural figures from across the world, including, this year, talk show host and reading evangelist Oprah Winfrey.
For five days, the festival, which started Friday, is taking over Jaipur, a city in central India. The festival has gotten so big that no sooner had the dates been announced – last year – then did nearby hotels get slammed with bookings. The rate at which the festival is growing in popularity highlights how much the book industry in India has grown.
The Jaipur Literature Festival had relatively humble beginnings: Its main purpose was to put literature, both in English and local languages, on the radar for Indians.
It seems to have worked.
Now, the festival is widely recognized as a destination for thinkers and writers. Publishers come to scout for talent and writers come looking for book deals. And hundreds of thousands of eyes are on it and watching the books that are discussed there.
It’s recently been described as “the Oscars” of the literary world.
“Of the many literary festivals in India, Jaipur is the big one. It’s the one to go and be seen at,” novelist Samit Basu told the Wall Street Journal.
To say it gets crowded is an understatement. In 2008 there were 7,000 attendees; last year an estimated 60,000 people came to see and be seen and even more are expected to attend this year.
India’s English-language publishing is relatively small but growing industry – a study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry last fall pegged the market at $1.4 billion and reported it was growing about 10 percent each year.
Among the local writers, an invitation to appear is an indication of having made it: Look out for Jeet Thayil, Anuradha Roy, and Gurcharan Das.
Addressing the festival today, she said three things have struck her about India so far: "Its chaos, the underlying calmness and love, and the fact that everyone seems to know where they are going.” She also dabbled in US politics, predicting the President Obama would win reelection in November.
US journalist Katherine Boo's book on life in the slums of Mumbai, “Behind The Beautiful Forevers,” is one of the most anticipated books, and sOprahe’s slated to be on hand.
But Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses which earned him a fatwa in 1989, has announced he will not attend, saying intelligence services have told him that underworld dons in Mumbai have hired assassins to "eliminate" him. He may yet appear via video link instead, which is continuing to kick up controversy in India.
"While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience, and to my fellow writers," said Rushdie in a statement.
It's unfortunate for festival-goers, many of whom were keen to see Rushdie live in the flesh in his homeland, but something tells me there will be plenty to keep them occupied.
Burma or Myanmar? As the country's military-backed government races headlong into reforms aimed at ending its long international isolation, US officials are changing their tone. For starters, they are beginning to use the government's preferred name for the country, "Myanmar," after two decades of sticking with "Burma."
“We have visited the Philippines, Vietnam, we are here, we are going to Myanmar tomorrow morning,” said Sen. John McCain, opening a press conference given by four US senators for journalists in Bangkok on Saturday afternoon.
It may seem like a small point, but in the subtle world of diplomacy this is heady stuff. It would seem to signal US recognition of the changes afoot in Myanmar and a willingness to work with a regime it has shunned for decades.
Until now, the US took its verbal cues from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when it came to the country's name. Attempting a symbolic stand against the arbitrariness of military rule, Ms. Suu Kyi and western governments have mostly stuck with “Burma” since the military junta changed the country's name to Myanmar in 1989.
But throughout Saturday's 45 minute Q&A with the senators, "Myanmar" was the term of choice, though the senior lawmakers at times slipped back into using "Burma."
When I asked whether the etymological shift presaged a changing US policy, Senator McCain cracked a joke about the “West Philippine Sea” (the name used by Manila to refer to the disputed South China Sea, also known as the East Sea in Vietnam), before telling me that “you raise a good point.”
He moved swiftly along to the next question.
After US State Deptartment official Joseph Yun got an ear-bending last year from Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Waung Lwin over his use of "Burma" during a visit to the country, perhaps the senators were just getting the script right before meeting President Thein Sein.
McCain, fellow veteran Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and colleagues Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Sen. Kelly Ayote travelled to Myanmar/Burma today, after visiting Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand. They will also meet opposition leader Suu Kyi, partly to assess next steps on possible removal of some US sanctions on the country
Her opinion will be key to whether the US waters down sanctions, as Senator Lieberman acknowledged on Saturday. "I wouldn't say we're giving her a total veto," Lieberman said, but added that "her views over when to end sanctions would heavily influence US policy”.
The next shift is likely after April 1 by-elections, in which Suu Kyi will run, and if they are deemed free and fair, the senators see no option for the US but to respond by removing some sanctions.
But as far as anyone knows, Suu Kyi's take is that the country's name is "Burma," itself a tin-eared British colonial-era rendering of "Bama," a way people in country pronounced what was more formally called "Myanma." But then, many Burmese are easy either way. "I say Burma, I say Myanmar," one Burmese told me today when I raised the subject.
As an Irishman, I empathize, as many Irish place-names are mangled Anglicizations (manglicizations?) of Gaelic names, rather than meaningful translations into English of what the original actually means.
Back in 1989, the military regime spun the renaming as "Myanmar" as a concession to the country's more than 130 ethnic minorities whom the army decided were discriminated-against by the use of the allegedly-ethnocentric British adaptation. This was fresh from gunning down some 3,000 student demonstrators in then-capital Rangoon/Yangon (another lexical wrangle: think Burma/Rangoon and Myanmar/Yangon and you get the idea).
But ethnocentricism lived on in much worse form, real rather than symbolic. The army has destroyed more ethnic minority villages in eastern Burma than the Sudanese Army and its janjaweed militia allies managed in Darfur, according to data in a 2009 Harvard University report, as well as a litany of abuses such as forced labor, extrajudicial killing, child soldiers, and gang-rape.
While the regime has claimed "Myanmar" is the more inclusive term, linguist Maung Tha Noe told the BBC in 2010 that "Bamar" means all the people in this country, but that "Myanmar" excludes the country's ethnic minorities, such as the Karen, Mon, and Shan. But Bertil Linter, prolific author on the country, has a simpler take: "Burma" and "Myanmar" mean exactly the same thing.
A week after the Costa Concordia sank in shallow water two hours into a holiday cruise, transfixing the world, attention is now focused on the behavior of the captain before and after the ship hit a rock formation at 9:40 p.m.
What began as a serious tragedy off the Tuscan island of Giglio may now have some serious tabloid elements to the story.
New questions involve the role of a 25-year old blonde Moldovan, a Filipino cook, the captain’s alcohol intake, a dinner ordered after the collision, and the captain’s moves after the ship ran aground, leaving a 160-foot gash in the hull.
Captain Francesco Schettino seems to have been attentive to Domnica Cemortan, alternately described as a hostess and a dancer, for much of the evening before, during, and after the ship hit the rock, possibly dining with her as late as 10:30 p.m. The two were also together as late as midnight, according to Ms. Cemortan, at a lifeboat station, where he ordered her to leave the semi-submerged ship.
What was clarified this week: After charting an alternate course to sail closer to Giglio Island – a course that Costa Cruises denies it authorized – Schettino told investigators he “turned too late” to avoid rocks that some maritime experts say are uncharted but do show up on other nautical charts. In one animated mapping using nautical GPS positioning of the Concordia, the back half of the ship is shown grazing what is described as an exposed rock.
Transcripts of radio conversations between the Coast Guard and Schettino confirm that he left the ship while hundreds of passengers were still onboard.
In upcoming days, an accurate timeline may emerge of Schettino’s precise movements between the restaurant and the bridge as well as who he called and consulted – facts that are still murky and confused right now. The details have serious legal implications and consequences for insurance and recovery of the $450 million ultra-modern vessel.
Today rescue workers said the 117,000 ton Concordia is shifting on the ocean floor by 1.5 centimeters an hour, delaying additional rescue efforts and attempts at removing the oil onboard. Relatives of the 11 dead and 21 still missing are arriving from Peru, India, and European nations.
Building a timeline
Between 9 p.m. and 10:50 p.m., Schettino and Ms. Cemortan, who works for the cruise line but was not employed for the cruise, were seen eating and drinking together. The two were caught on an amateur camera at 9 p.m. in a ship restaurant. Cemortan, who gave an interview to a Romanian paper Thursday, said she was dining with Schettino at 9:30 p.m., around the time the boat hit the rocks. Rogelio Barista, a ship cook, told Manila TV he was befuddled by orders from the captain at 10:15 to serve food, including dessert, to Cemortan.
"I have had 12 years of experience as a cook on a cruise ship,” Mr. Barista said, in comments translated by CNN. “I have even witnessed fires, so I wasn't that scared. But I did wonder, though, what the captain was doing ... why he was still there."
Moreover, in what is generally an industry taboo, Schettino consumed at least part of a decanter of wine, according to Italian passengers who saw him in the restaurant.
William Wright, a British sea captain interviewed on Sky News today, said that just as commercial air pilots are forbidden to drink within a certain time frame of flying, so are ship captain eight hours prior to a voyage. Drinking on board by ship captains is “absolutely unacceptable” and there is a “zero tolerance” policy, Mr. Wright said.
Tapes indicate the Concordia did not make the call to abandon ship until more than an hour after the collision. The initial warning of danger came from a cell phone call by a passenger to a relative on shore who alerted the Coast Guard. It appears that ship communications with the Coast Guard deliberately hid its plight by presenting the crisis as an electrical blackout.
New tapes show that in the meantime, chaos ensued. The crew initially told passengers the problem was an electrical malfunction, then told them to don their lifejackets and head to lifeboat stations, but tapes show that passengers were later told to return to their rooms.
“We have a message from the captain,” says a crew member to passengers in a corridor in a video released Thursday. “We kindly ask you to return to your cabins, or go for a walk if you like. We’ll resolve the electrical problem that we have with the generator. I’m kindly asking you to go back to your rooms, where you’ll be seated and tranquil.”
Cemortan, who has so far not explained why the captain was so attentive to her under such extraordinary conditions, has defended Schettino, echoing his initial story that his maneuver of the ship to shallow water saved thousands of lives and that he was not one of the first to leave.
What Schettino himself told investigators is that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat accidentally while trying to help others. What remains unexplained is how he landed in the same lifeboat as the No. 1 and No. 2 next ranking Concordia officers.
“Seems quite amazing both for myself and other people,” said Mr. Wright, the British captain. “But we need to see the investigation.” The cruise liner was commissioned in 2006 and is one of the largest cruise vessels in the Carnival fleet.