DARRELL HUCKABY: Capt. Schettino off course in more ways than one

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Whatever happened to the captain going down with the ship? I guess Francesco Schettino was absent the day they went over that in maritime 101.

In case you have been so caught up in which bimbo the guy on "The Bachelor" was going to hook up with next to pay attention to the news, Schettino is the captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia. He ran his ship aground near Tuscany a week ago, ripping a gaping hole in the hull and causing the ship to take on enough water to begin to list and eventually turn over on its side.

The heck of it is, Capt. Schettino didn't even have his ship on its proper course. He allegedly was cavorting around in shallow waters in the middle of the night so he could impress his head waiter's homeboys. At least, that's how it was told to me.

I'm not an expert on cruise ships, understand. Most of my vacations over the past quarter-century have involved a pop-up camper and a Dodge Caravan, but I did get to take a weeklong excursion along Alaska's inner passage a few years ago and another time I went on a three-day fling with the Heritage Band. Both trips were amazing and I never gave a second thought to the fact that the ship under me could turn all Titanic and take us to Davey Jones's locker. If I had thought about it, I am sure I would have assumed that the captain of the ship would be supervising any evacuation that might take place. He was the one, after all, talking on the loud-speaker during the lifeboat drill the first day at sea.

I would also have assumed that if there were such an emergency that the women and children would be first off the boat, followed by the old geezers like me and then the able-bodied males and then the crew and then the captain. Or maybe I was able-bodied at the time. It's been so long ago I can't recall.

At any rate, I would have been dead wrong, apparently, if old Francesco had been in charge of my particular boat. If you have been following the story you know that "mio capitano" wasn't about to wait around for all of that stuff to happen. He flopped into a lifeboat quicker than you can say "Unsinkable Molly Brown" and refused to return to his ship, even when ordered by the Italian version of the Coast Guard.

According to a published timeline of the incident -- which has now claimed 11 lives with two dozen souls still unaccounted for -- the ship struck an outcropping of rocks at 9:30 p.m. At 10:10 the abandon ship call was given and at 11:15 the first lifeboat reached the nearby town of Giglio. That is the first boat, understand. At 11:40 Capt. Schettino is located -- safely ashore -- while the evacuation of the ship is still in progress.

On Saturday Italian authorities detained the captain -- and first mate -- while contemplating charges against the two of manslaughter and abandoning ship. Meanwhile, the search continued for about 40 people who remained unaccounted for. As the week wore on more bodies were found and a few passengers were actually rescued -- including two 29-year-old Korean honeymooners who were still in their cabin and "in perfect condition."

Sadly the efforts to search for other survivors -- or bodies -- had to be abandoned when the wreckage began to shift and authorities feared that it would sink, putting the lives of would-be searchers in jeopardy.

And throughout the whole ordeal Francesco Schettino maintains that he did nothing wrong, while changing his story more often than a floundering politician changes positions. Once he said that he supervised the entire evacuation before leaving his post and later he decided that he just fell into a lifeboat while helping crew members fill it with passengers.

I don't know how to say "piece of work" in Italian, but the next time I see my neighbor Domenico Pelliccia, I'm going to ask him -- because that is apparently what Francesco Schettino is in English.

It will be many months before the entire story unfolds, but some facts are self-evident. At least 11 and possibly as many as 32 lives have been lost and the person who assumed the immense responsibility for protecting those lives did not live up to his end of the bargain. The captain of the ship may or may not have caused the accident but unquestionably the buck stops with him -- and when it did, he wasn't around to claim it.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.