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article imageOp-Ed: Costa Concordia and Titanic captains each guilty of hubris

By Marcus Hondro     Jan 26, 2012 in World
The terrible tragedy that is the Costa Concordia took place exactly three months and two days shy of 100 years after the terrible tragedy that is the Titanic. And while the tragedies are different, there are similarities.
Many of those rescued from the Italian liner said the experience was "just like" or it "felt like" the Titanic and, naturally, standing amidst chaos in a listing ship, not knowing if you'd live or drown, would bring the doomed Titanic to mind.
Titanic tragedy on Costa Concordia
Onboard the Titanic on April 15, 1912 were 2,223 passengers and crew and 1,517 of them died; onboard the Costa Concordia on Jan. 13, 2012 were approximately 4,200, of which about 34 died. Smaller numbers but those on the Costa Concordia likely did not have much more hope of rescue than the passengers on the Titanic did 99 years, 3 months and 2 days earlier.
The most tragic similarity, however, is the hubris of the captain of each ship. They both appear to have done something they should not have, with each failing to fully consider the ramifications of their orders. It is arguable Titanic Captain E.J. Smith, despite the greater loss of life, is not as culpable as was Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino, however.
The sinking of the Titanic
The iceberg situation in the North Atlantic in April of 1912 was the worst it had been in 50 years. High temperatures had caused ice to break away from the west coast of Greenland and the area the Titanic traveled through on her maiden, and only, voyage was strewn with them. Smith was made well aware of that by other ships in the region.
He'd ordered his ship to travel at a speed close to its maximum capability, though there remains dispute as to why. Some say it was on orders from the president of White Star liner, Bruce Ismay, looking to achieve a record crossing time. They say an experienced captain should have known better than to risk his ship. However, no research has proven this to be the case.
But the fact remains there were abundant warnings and ships had hit icebergs that spring and yet he did not bring the speed of his vessel down; all he did was put her crew on alert for icebergs. He felt they could avoid them and his hubris kept him from considering that he was playing with lives. A costly mistake for him and 1,516 others.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia
We have not had all those years to view the tragedy of the Costa Concordia from but already it is clear the ship was far too close to shore. A statement from Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises, puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Schettino.
"This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa," Foschi said. "He wanted to show the ship, to (go) nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island."
There have been statements from the seemingly-unhinging Schettino which claim it was the company's fault, but there has been corroboration that the captain alone decided to take the ship far too close to the shore. He intentionally did so, without orders and without authorization,taking her to a rocky area he did not have full information on. It seems he did so, at least in part, to please his Chief Steward, who grew up on the island.
Smith and Schettino: Captains linked in history
There is no conclusive proof either captain did anything wrong in these tragedies but there is no reason to blame bad luck or the weather; in the more recent case there were no weather issues and in the case of the Titanic they were well documented. And there is no evidence to blame something going wrong with equipment on either of these state-of-the-art vessels.
Yes, standards of the day were such that the rate of speed the Titanic traveled at was considered safe, but given the almost unprecedented amount of icebergs, Smith should have exercised greater caution. Yes, 'salutes,' to shore might be part of protocol for passenger liners in Costa Cruises but never without authorization and never so close as he took his ship to Giglio.
With so many ships on the waters at any given time in our world, it is inevitable hubris will on occasion take hold of a captain and send a ship to the bottom. There have surely been other cases in the 100 years that sit between these two high-profile disasters and, until we make human beings perfect, there will surely be more.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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