Grosseto - They had offered him a job training others, teaching sea captains how to carry out manouevres. Then “someone put pressure on to stop me being hired” he accuses, “because it wouldn’t look good that people would get to know exactly what many are confirming in the courtroom: that is that Francesco Schettino remains one heck of a captain, and he did his duty”. Coward. Incompetent. Lord Jim, like the first mate in Joseph Conrad’s novel, who abandons ship and redeems himself by finding the courage to finally look death in the face. But who really is Schettino, the man who was made a global laughing stock with one phone call, “Get back on board, for fuck’s sake”? On the same day in which recordings revealed the extent of the distress of those on board the Concordia (“We can’t see anybody anymore, we are just herded together like goats, they are sending us to our deaths!”) he can stand no more: “That’s enough, they are overdoing it. Shall we try and write it down again, the account of what happened”?
Let’s try, Captain: why didn’t you climb back up that wretched rope ladder, as Captain Gregorio De Falco had urged you to?
“It wasn’t possible, because the rope ladder was on the right side and was underwater. I asked Ferrarini to make De Falco understand that if my presence on board was essential, they would have to get a helicopter ready for me”.
Your truth, Captain.
“The truth is that dictated by the navigational code. We were at half a mile from the coast and at that distance, the ship’s steering is entrusted to the watch”.
The watch means the officials on the bridge?
“Yes. Who are never relieved, nor from their roles nor from their respective tasks. Not even if the Captain himself takes over supervision of the navigation!”
But on the other hand?
“Nobody pointed out the danger. Not the First Officer, Ambrosio, who was doing the nautical calculations. Not the Third Officer, Coronica, who was watching the radar. Not the relieving officer, Ursino, who no one can understand what he was up to. Not the helmsman, Rusli Bin… Not a soul spoke a word, I was the one who grasped what was happening!”
How did you realize?
“I looked at the sea and saw the foam. When the water is shallow, the wave movement, even if only generated by a light breeze, gives rise to froth”.
Were you carrying out the “inchino” (translator’s note: the courtesy bow or salute to someone on shore)?
“No! It was just a transit near to the coast, let me say that again, half a nautical mile out. Yet we found ourselves on the rocks, with not one of them saying: Captain, we are at the minimum distance!! Comandà, be careful!”.
You have 33 years sailing experience: how could something like this happen?
“It’s not a pleasant thing to say, but it was an accident that could have happened in any other circumstance, considering the lack of coordination of the team on the bridge. Has individual professionalism been diminished by the technology? Then it’s therefore necessary to strengthen the rules of human resource management”.
Translating that: you mean inept officials. When you realized that the ship was heading for a collision, what did you do?
“I avoided the foam and ordered the helmsman first to pull over to starboard, to bypass the rock, then to port to stop the stern from cuffing the sea bed. Instead the helmsman got it wrong, in the end he went starboard. The black box is witness to that. I don’t know what went on in his head”.
So the Concordia crashes on the famous Scole and begins to take on water.
“In cases like these, you need to keep calm and try to understand what’s happened. You need to assess the damage as fast as possible. But to do that you need to use a specific terminology, in order to give an accurate report. You cannot say: the electric panels got wet or the lift is not working. The captain needs to have specific information, to make a decision.”
And that’s not what happened?
“No: there was a list of incoherent, confusing sometimes even contradictory information. What needed to be reported was the exact number of flooded compartments. Nothing else.”
What was the response of Ferrarini, the Head of the Crisis Unit, when you asked for a tugboat?
“That I should call the tugboat myself, from my cell phone. If I used the radio to make the call, anyone could have heard it. It would have been a proper SOS call… And according to the navigational code, whoever responds to the call is entitled to a reward equal to the value of the vessel.”
This kind of thinking is unimaginable under such dramatic circumstances.
“Apparently, some people were thinking this way”.
Ferrarini, and the officers on the bridge also, have been offered a plea bargain. This means they have acknowledged their own responsibilities. You don’t?
“I was the only one who got fired. When an accident involves such a complex organisation, how can anyone split responsibilities? Of course, this way, the ship-owner was able to claim 500 million dollars in insurance without any problems.”
What did the second-in-command do? Isn’t it true that this is the man responsible for the crew, he’s even called “crew captain” and he is the man who knows all the practical features of the ship, its maintenance, its history… isn’t he responsible for preventing accidents?
‘Yes. Instead, Bosio, merely repeated my orders. That’s confirmed by the black box.”
Just going back to the bridge, where was the Moldovan woman?
“She was in the corner.”
But isn’t the bridge absolutely off limits?
“No, pay seventy euros and you can get a guided tour. You get plenty of photos and a toast with the captain.”
Continue with your story.
“To avoid the worst-case scenario, I decided to steer the ship towards shallower waters, so it could ground on the seabed. This was the decision I made in the most dramatic moment of my life… it wasn’t a decision made by the Crisis Unit, nor by the Harbour Master’s Operations Centre.
There weren’t just three flooded compartments, though. Just yesterday, during the hearing, it was found that the watertight bulk heads numbers 10 and 24 had failed.
“Yes, and the computer system monitoring the stability of the ship, which estimates whether the vessel can be saved or not, wasn’t working. Then the portholes gave in and the boat began to tilt.”
“We lowered the lifeboats into the sea and I ordered a shore-to ship shuttle service: it was impossible to have an accurate head-count of everyone on board, there were over 4300 people. If I had simply given the order ‘abandon ship’ no boat would have come back to rescue the remaining passengers.”
The helmsman stated that he saw crew members lower the boats, without first extending the arms that held them suspended. Because of this, some of them ended up on the lower deck rather than the sea.
“Yes, other people witnessed that too.”
You abandoned the ship.
“No. All witnesses have exonerated me, using various terms: fell, slipped, jumped in a boat… the truth is that when you’re standing on a floor that’s tilting, and the gradient goes beyond a certain degree, you become subject to the force of gravity. Whoever doesn’t acknowledge this, is simply acting in bad faith.
“So, while the second captain took a brave dive into the water, and started swimming, despite the risk of being torn apart by the propeller of the lifeboat, I was trying to steer that same boat which was no longer trapped under the side of the ship. The man next to me has confirmed that I brought us to shore, since the officer in charge was panicked.”
And then there was the call with De Falco.
“So, I ended up on the rocks, in front of the ship. Not in the harbour, but twenty metres from the wreck. I had already spoken with the Headquarters in Rome. They had told me to stay there with my phone at the ready. They had no other contacts with whom to coordinate the rescue operation.”