Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Carmel on the Case: Captain of Controversy: Part 2
A basic tradition of the sea is that the captain is the last to leave the ship in an emergency. That did not happen when the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy. Instead, the captain was branded a coward. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero traveled to Italy to get the captain's explanation of why and how he ended up on shore before all the passengers were rescued. He says he is not "captain coward" but there's no doubt he is the "Captain of Controversy."
David and Denise Saba of Aventura were just hours into their honeymoon cruise when the ship crashed into a rock that sliced through the hull, and like many others, they blame the captain.
David Saba: "Basically, he abandoned the ship. He was out of the chain of command.
But Francesco Schettino maintains he did not abandon his ship or its passengers and crew.
Francesco Schettino: "I know myself and I know what I've done."
Carmel Cafiero: "Here in his hometown of Meta, Schettino is well known and well liked. But there are those who are disturbed by the fact he left the ship. And that is a fact that has earned him disrespect worldwide."
Carmel Cafiero: "They called you this, "Chicken of the Sea." They've called you "Captain Coward." How hurtful is that?"
Francesco Schettino: "If you are not strong enough and you do not have a strong personality, these things they can kill you. But I am a seaman. I'm a real seaman."
Carmel Cafiero: "And it's not going to kill you?"
Francesco Schettino: "It will not."
Schettino spent three days answering every question we had. In return, he asked only that he be given the chance to give his side of the accident.
Carmel Cafiero: "Tell me why you left the ship."
Francesco Schettino: "Because you cannot stand because of gravity on the tilted floor. Once you exceed a certain angle, you have nothing to do but go overboard."
Using a still picture, Schettino explains he was on the lifeboat deck when the ship began its final, deadly roll.
Francesco Schettino: "I had the option. I was here for to jump or to die."
By then all of the lifeboats on this side had been dropped. He says the last one was alongside the ship.
Francesco Schettino: "Instead of throwing myself at sea, I jumped on the lifeboat. But I still cannot stay on the ship anymore because it was almost 65 to 70 degree angle."
He says the lifeboat was about to be crushed and he helped save a dozen people onboard by steering it to safety.
Francesco Schettino: "The ship was falling over us, completely falling over us."
A night vision photograph shows Schettino and some of his crew on rocks about 60 feet from the ship.
He says the lifeboat engine failed. That is when an infamous phone call took place between the captain and a coast guard official.
Coast Guard Official: "You go on board. Is an order."
Coast Guard Official: "Look Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make sure you go through a very rough time. I will make sure you go through a lot of trouble. Now get on board! Damn it!"
The order to get on board turned up on T-shirts sold worldwide, and as Schettino puts it, left him with the "stink of the coward".
Francesco Schettino: "I cannot be a coward. If you are the captain of a ship, you are not a coward. Come on, this is a joke. They make me laugh when they say that."
Carmel Cafiero: "They do?"
Francesco Schettino: "Yes."
Carmel Cafiero: "What about your family? What about your friends?"
Francesco Schettino: "They know me."
Schettino says he did try to get a small boat to take him around to the other side of the ship to get back on board, but the water was too rough and it could not do so.
Francesco Schettino: "This small boat started to be flooded by water."
He says he did his best to coordinate rescue by phone but that a lot went wrong that night.
Francesco Schettino: "The bridge team failed to operate."
He says if he had not corrected an incorrect course the ship would have run into land.
Carmel Cafiero: "If you had gone straight, what would have happened?"
Francesco Schettino: "Of course, you would have had frontal impact and this would have provoked casualties but a lot."
He says watertight compartments were not watertight. The ship lost power. The computer wasn't operating, and his crew could have used more training. But instead of investigating the causes, he says authorities, the cruise line and the public blame him for the loss of 32 lives aboard the Concordia that night.
Francesco Schettino: "To me, it's important to pay tribute to those casualties ... the memory of these people. And the only homage I can make to them is to find out what went wrong."
Shortly after this interview, prosecutors in Italy officially requested an indictment of Schettino and five crew members for causing the shipwreck.
He remains confined to to his hometown waiting for a decision.
Francesco Schettino: "It was an accident. I did my best."
Francesco Schettino: "Once they decide you go in jail, finish of story. I don't want to think too much about that."
But out of work and grounded, Francesco Schettino has nothing but time to think.