Costa Cruises’ Costa Concordia, said to be carrying more that 3, 216 passengers and 1,013 crew, ran aground last Friday evening (January 13, 2012) in what has become one of the world’s biggest maritime disasters in recent history.
While most of the passengers were safely evacuated, authorities have confirmed 22 people dead, while four crewman and 25 passengers remain missing. And blame is being placed squarely on the shoulders of the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who it is said was ‘showing off’ when the accident occurred, steering the 112,000-ton vessel just 150 metres from the shores of Giglio Island, Italy.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports that the ‘sail-past’ manoeuvre was a tribute to Mario Palombo, one of Costa Cruises’ legendary commanders, and a favour to the ship’s Chief Steward, Antonello Tievoli, the only Giglio native on board. According to the newspaper, witnesses state that the captain and his attendants summoned Mr Tievoli to the bridge, saying “Antonello, come and see. We’re right on top of Giglio.”
Fancesco Verusio, chief prosecutor of the Tuscany region, said the ship then “hit a rock that became embedded in its left side, causing it to list and take in an enormous amount of water in the space of two or three minutes”.
Black-box recordings from the wreck reveal that Captain Francesco Schettino delayed notifying maritime authorities, only reluctantly issued a mayday call and issued his order to abandon ship far too late.
Numerous passengers have described what followed as a modern day Titanic experience. People panicked. “Everyone was pushing, shoving each other, trying to get on a lifeboat. It was chaos,” said passenger Amanda Warrick when speaking on CNN television.
To make matters worse, a number of the lifeboats could not be lowered because of the steep angle of the ship’s lean. Many passengers jumped overboard, rescuers reportedly plucking 100 people out of the sea and 60 people from the vessel itself.
Witnesses also report that the Captain Francesco Schettino abandoned ship well before all passengers had been evacuated. He is now under arrest and being held in custody for multiple manslaughter and abandoning his passengers.
In the ensuing days, despite the danger of the ship slipping off the rocks on which it rests and sinking altogether, divers were able to save a number of passengers trapped in the wreckage. But the death toll is rising and there is little hope for the 29 people who remain missing.