December 06, 2013

Song and Dance

Published somewhere in November

The maritime press is going the way of the tabloids. 

One widely circulated ‘news’ piece- that Britney Spears’ music is being used off East Africa to ward off pirates- is to me flippant, mildly titillating and largely obfuscatory all at once. It appears that Somali pirates hate the lady’s music, seeing it no doubt as symptomatic of Western decadent culture. Or so say some members of the British merchant navy, who are blasting the eardrums of those aboard approaching pirate boats with Britney’s music. “As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can,” says widely quoted Rachel Owens, a merchant marine officer. Ms Owens does not say what effect Britney’s screams have had on her shipmates and their presumably Western eardrums, or, indeed, on the schools of fish in the Indian Ocean that are being tortured by Spears’ music as surely as the detainees in Guantanamo were (are, still?) tortured with Metallica’s rough rock and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’.

What is largely unreported in all this tamasha is the fact that each one of the ships that are blasting ‘Baby one more time’ have armed security teams aboard. So, even as the tabloids and mainstream newspapers in the UK and the copy and paste journalists everywhere else go to town with little content but wildly inaccurate headlines (Spears harpoons pirates, anybody?), security teams aboard ships will shrug off the hoohaa and concentrate on keeping their powder dry. Britney Spears is probably a pirate irritant at best and an overrated singer at worst; she can screech loudly, but those who sail must carry a big stick. 

The other piece of titillating news from last week is actually more serious. At the trial of Costa Concordia’s Capt. Schettino in Tuscany, twenty-six year old Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan broke down under cross examination- and, after being warned three times by the judge against perjury- admitted that the two had been lovers aboard the ill-fated ship. 

Domnica had denied the affair for two years, presumably in a bid to protect the married Schettino or to save her and her young child embarrassment. Her ‘revelation’ went semi-viral too, with many adding a mean aside -talking to a translator, Domnica had brushed off the fact that she didn’t have a ticket for the ill-fated Concordia cruise- “When you are somebody’s lover, they don’t ask to see your ticket,” she had said. That aside became public after the judge insisted it be translated in open court.

What went under-reported was her dismaying testimony that Schettino was dining with her at a ship’s restaurant just fifteen minutes before the Concordia hit the rocks. This, combined with the fact that Domnica was on the bridge with the good Captain when the Concordia actually ran aground, is pretty damning for Schettino. The allegations that he was cavalier in his navigation and unmindful of safety will resurface with a vengeance now. 

Many cargo ship Captains ban families (including their own) from the bridge during sensitive manoeuvring times; they do not want the bridge team distracted. I have called Civitavecchia (the Concordia’s port of departure) often, and, without second guessing the events of that fateful night, I will only say this: I would not be dining with a Moldovan dancer fifteen minutes before I planned a dangerous ‘sail past’ close to an island off that coast. Hell, I wouldn’t be even dining with my wife. I would not tolerate, in darkness when situational awareness is always a bigger issue, any unnecessary personnel on the bridge. And I would not be comfortable below deck so close to a potentially dangerous manoeuvre.

I am sure Captain Schettino- charged with manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning the Concordia- will agree with me today. Regardless of the outcome of the Tuscany trial, his errors of judgement will torture him for a long time, I am afraid. Shipmasters will tell you that Britney Spears’ wails are nothing compared to the torture that the what-if’s of their rank inflict upon them. 


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