Dhe greatest catastrophes always come when those who are pushing the cart against the wall – or the ship against the rock, the nuclear plant against the tsunami – cannot admit to themselves and to others the magnitude of the disaster that are the consequences. Personal vanity, authoritarian structures and cadaverous obedience all add up, and in the end everyone just sits there and wonders: why didn’t someone notice and do something much sooner? ? After all, there were enough opportunities.
Ten years ago, on January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia left the Roman port of Civitavecchia in the evening with no less than four thousand people on board and set sail for the island of Giglio, a tiny island off from the Tuscan coast. A “bow” to the island, i.e. a slow, close passage to the port, is an old maritime tradition and should also take place on this day. For dinner, Captain Francesco Schettino had some ladies to accompany him, who obviously must have been impressed, and one of his captain friends would have been on the island at the time. On the bridge, still accompanied by a woman, Schettino switches to manual piloting and sails at breakneck speed, near Giglio. The officers on the bridge, many of whom were quite young, did not object. His fear of his overbearing boss was too deep. But then a rock had the audacity to appear under the ship and not be marked on the available nautical charts.
The wind was the rescue
The documentary “Costa Concordia – Chronicle of a Catastrophe”, a cooperation between Rai Documentari and Sky Documentaries, meticulously reconstructs what exactly happened that evening. Telephone conversations, radio recordings and events recorded on deck are accurately reproduced. A young cadet on the bridge has his say, as does the head of the Livorno Coast Guard. Two friends trapped in the sinking wreckage give their perspective, as does Mario Pellegrini, the deputy mayor of Giglio, who eventually pulled one of the two out of a ventilation shaft of a meter deep on a rope. He had crossed the ship to help when most of the officers were already a few hundred yards ashore. Only Schettino gets back in a boat and tries to get back to the ship. However, not voluntarily: Gregorio de Falco, the head of the coastguard, gave the captain such an enema by telephone, which has now become famous in Italy, that he had no other choice.
Meanwhile, Giglio’s 1,400 residents lugged blankets, socks, jackets and drinks to the port to tend to the frozen castaways. They crowded into churches and took over the only hotel. If almost all survived, that there were only 32 deaths, even if each one is too many, it is only thanks to the wind. He propelled the crippled ship, whose engine room was flooded, towards the island. If the wind had come from another direction, the Costa Concordia would have been pushed offshore. Then, as Vice Mayor Pellegrini says at the end, we would not have counted the dead, but the survivors.
The passengers called the police
The Schettino defender is trying hard to paint the captain as a victim of the media, who allegedly looked for a scapegoat and found him. He is currently trying to act at European level against the 16-year prison sentence. But the image that remains of the captain at the end is overwhelming. Even if many other circumstances play a role – we prefer not to put this man in charge of four thousand human lives. Until the end, he thought he could reach the port and, although the stern had been gutted for several meters, only reported to the coast guard that there was a power failure. It was relatives of the passengers and crew who called the police, who in turn called the Coast Guard.
Until the end, Schettino also believed that the ship would not sink and that an evacuation was not necessary. When finally executed, fifty minutes after the collision, quite chaotically and partly on their own initiative by staff and passengers, the ship was already so heeled that it was difficult to lower many lifeboats from rescue above the ship’s hull. Passengers on the other side of the ship, believing they were at sea, were frightened and panicked. No announcement was made to calm her down. It was the cooks, servers and cabin crew who tried to deal with Muster stations, witnesses said.
However, the role of the shipping company is unclear. Despite repeated requests, she would not take a position, but said she had made a number of process improvements. And the expensive salvage of the wreckage, which took two years, would be worth another chapter. The fact that the filmmakers focus on rescuing the passengers makes good sense, because the story isn’t about technology, it’s about human error.
Costa Concordia – chronicle of a disaster airs today at 8.15pm on Sky Documentaries and Sky Ticket and on demand via Sky Q.