January 26, 2012

Capt. Schettino and the night of the long knives

Note to Shipmasters: If you must screw up, then for heaven's sake don't screw up where the cameras can see and record you, because then you will be drawn, quartered, and fed to the lions.

The long knives- and longer pencils- will be then out. Reporters - made instant nautical experts complete with Perry topsiders adorning their feet- will tell the world that you are an incompetent coward. 

Your country will loathe you. The same people who expressed gratitude at your 'touristic navigation' - that was good for business- will want to hang you from the nearest lamppost.

Your contemporaries will disown you, shamed and disgusted. You should never have gone so close to land regardless of commercial pressure. You should never have abandoned the vessel when one or two hundred souls out of four thousand two hundred remained on board, your colleagues will say. None of us would have done that. Never. Ever.

Out of touch ex-Shipmasters, who have forgotten how to steer a ship leave alone command it, will spin fictions on camera and otherwise. They will attribute heroic qualities to ship captains- and to themselves, by extension- in a forlorn attempt at self-aggrandisement. A few moments of evaporating fame paid for with exaggerations and lies.

Your owners will quickly damn you, calling you an idiot and your action inexplicable (They are concentrating with everything at their disposal to limit liability - they need to vilify you). 

The head of your ship's classification society will have to hurriedly resign when he dares to suggest that other factors are also to blame for the screw up, implying that the ship coming close to shore- 'saluting'- has been going on for long, with possible encouragement by many. 

The hype will be built up until it reaches a crescendo. The sad deaths of around thirty people will be forgotten, almost, by the wolves baying for your blood. Headlines will scream- One hundred years after the Titanic! The biggest insurance disaster! Captain was talking to a beautiful woman! Crew did nothing! (Then how were three thousand passengers, many without even basic safety familiarisation, evacuated?) Pigs were flying! 

Your haggard mug shot will flash across TV screens across the world. You will look like the war criminal that you are being treated as; dazed, confused, and incoherent as you come to grips with the trauma of the shipwreck and your role in it. The world needs a devil- you are the chosen one for today.

Tapes will be released by the coast guard of your conversation with them after the sinking. Their official- rested and probably coffe-ed and prepared for the recording, will come across as a decisive hero in those. You, shipwrecked, traumatised and stressed, will come across as the villain they want you to be. The soap opera needs a hero as a counterpoint to you, the villain; it has chosen the coast guard officer for today.

There will be few questions raised about systemic issues that led to the tragedy, largely because the Sperry loafer talking heads are used to sidestepping puddles and do not have a clue which questions need to be asked when a ship goes down. Others do know, but they have the sense not to ask them in public. The owners are powerful, the regulators untouchable and the cruise industry brings in money. The Captain, however, is powerless and pack dogs go after soft targets. Simple as that.

In conclusion, towards the end of this piece, here is another bunch of notes. The first one to active sailors is this: There- but for the grace of God- go you.

To the wider industry, including its out of date sailors and others quick to lynch Capt. Schettino of the Costa Concordia: Wait, please. Demand a fair trial. Capt. Schettino has almost certainly made navigational blunders; he has probably- additionally- failed in his duties post the grounding and blackout. He certainly disregarded or underplayed the accident with coast guard officials and that may have cost lives. Let him be vigorously prosecuted; he should face the legal consequences of his actions, however rigorous they are. And so should Carnival, if there is proven negligence; let the truth come out there too.

To the loafer-ed reporters and sanctimonious television news anchors, many of whom seem somewhat excitable these days: It is time to pick on other bones, I think. Nothing more to see- or hype- here. Move on. You can return, as briefly as possible, in case there is an environmental disaster should oil from the wreck leak.

Meanwhile, consider this: At least half dozen ships have had accidents in the last two weeks across the world. One has gone down without a trace on Christmas day, killing 22 crew. Others have suffered casualties. Most of these incidents were not even reported by the international press; one or two were, almost as footnotes, and quickly forgotten. 

The Costa Concordia incident- terrible and tragic as it is, with around thirty expected casualties- is not grounds for damning Capt Schettino and the crew of the ship like this. Schettino is guilty- even if all the charges against him are true- of many things, maybe even manslaughter. Let him face the music, but for heaven's sake stop reviling him as if this was genocide.

In short, get some perspective. If for some reason you can't do that, then get a life instead.

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