Coward or fall-guy?

Mallorca's Palma police arrest woman for refusing to pay bus fare. Image: Abinieks/

MUCH has been made in the press recently about the alleged ‘cowardice’ of the Costa Concordia’s Captain Francesco Schettino.

Many rush to judgement but conveniently overlook a few points. Firstly, modern-day cruise ships have more to do with the entertainment industry than with shipping.

They are floating resorts, and the captain not only has to be in command of the ship but also to socialise with the customers and keep them happy (“Here’s a photo of us dining at the captain’s table”).

In other words, he’s a PR man for Costa Cruises as well as a professional sailor. Hence the practice of ‘show boating’ – to impress the customers – which here resulted in tragedy but is apparently not uncommon.

Now, none of this is to excuse Schettino’s actions, as reported, just that the ethos of the profit-driven cruise/entertainment industry is totally different from that of the rest of the shipping industry.

Secondly, it’s rare to find anyone in any profession who hasn’t cut corners, exceeded prescribed limits or changed procedure at some stage.

How many drivers exceed the speed limit so they can also get their kids to school during working hours? It’s never a bad idea – until it goes wrong.

Thirdly, the question of corporate responsibility shouldn’t be ignored. Before the delayed Mayday alert, Schettino allegedly had several phone conversations with Costa Cruises.

Could pressure have been put on him to delay evacuation to avoid their paying out £25m compensation? Is he a convenient fall-guy?

Our now-received version of Schettino’s behaviour is based on many factors – infrared images of fleeing passengers; divers searching for the missing; media speculation; conversations between Schettino and the coast-guard and the loss of life – but this is essentially an emotional response.

He at least deserves to be judged on a thorough investigation of everything leading to the disaster. Finally, what about our own “captains” of industry?

Like Sir Fred “RBS” Goodwin. Bung your ship on the rocks – disgrace. Bung your bank on the rocks – take another payout, or worst case scenario, we stop calling you “Sir”.

And while we’re about it, let’s not forget the mistakes made on the Herald of Free Enterprise, Piper Alpha or the bulk carrier Devonshire. Let he who is without sin…

Nora Johnson’s novels, Soul Stealer & The De Clerambault Code ( now available at in paperback and eBook (€0.89; Amazon UK: £0.77). Profits to Cudeca

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