Perhaps it is Hollywood, fairy tales or even idealized visions of the way things ought to be, but it seems as if heroism is no longer a rarity. Whereas, once upon a time, heroes were one-in-a-million, everybody now has some connection with a modern-day knight in shining armor.
To be any less than a hero is to be a coward, and that is completely unforgivable. Captain Francesco Schettino, the most hated sea villain since Ursula, no doubt has had plenty of time to consider this as he wanders the halls of a house-turned-prison.
According to BBC, Schettino’s ship, the Costa Concordia, keeled over after hitting a rock near the island of Giglio off Italy’s western coast on Jan. 13. Resting on a sea ledge, the 290-foot-long vessel remains half-sunk as rescuers scramble to find the 24 people still missing.
Thirteen people have been confirmed dead so far.
Schettino’s version of events has the Costa Concordia sailing close by Giglio to offer a traditional salute — a tradition the boat’s owners deny authorizing. The captain turned the boat too late, resulting in a collision with some offshore rocks and with all the drama that has since ensued.
Schettino was unable to be found for at least 20 minutes after the ship ran aground. Crew members were not informed of the full extent of the situation, even sending passengers back to their cabins, a particularly dangerous decision given the circumstances.
The final blow came when Schettino was found on shore several hours after the wreck, refusing requests from the Italian coast guard to return to his ship and help oversee evacuation procedures.
Schettino’s story has changed somewhat as he has been interviewed and as new details have emerged. As it stands now, he supposedly tripped, fell off the boat, and landed in the life raft that took him to shore, according to BBC.
The probability that Schettino tripped is plausible. The probability that he fell off the boat right where a lifeboat happened to be waiting and did not seriously injure himself is far less likely, not to mention the fact that none of the members of his life raft have stepped forward to corroborate his story.
Upon reaching shore, Italian coast guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco repeatedly asked Schettino to return, giving the captain a chance to redeem his growing pile of cowardice. Schettino refused, citing the presence of rescuers already on board and the darkness as excuses.
Schettino has argued that his maneuver immediately following collision and before tilting saved thousands of lives, a statement that, in all likelihood, is probably true. He also claims to have directed evacuation efforts from the shore, an assertion that is completely unbelievable.
Bottom line? Schettino abandoned his boat. This does fall in direct opposition with the traditional sailor’s honor code that the captain be the last to leave a ship, remaining until every passenger has been accounted for. Italy even has punishment for it: a possible eight years in prison for any commander who leaves a ship when people are dying, an obscure law that Schettino will soon become very familiar with.
What Schettino did was wrong, cowardly, base and rather human. Schettino put himself first, showing a side of humanity most people prefer to ignore until placed in the same situation.
While it is easy to imagine oneself as a hero gallantly saving lives without a thought to self-preservation, people really cannot predict their actions until they are in the situation. And honestly, the outcome probably would have been no different had Schettino been on board or not during evacuation procedures.
The appearance of a person in calm control of chaotic situation is a nice image, but given the captain’s actions, he obviously would not have been this source and thus not altogether logistically helpful.
Schettino should be punished for breaking protocol and steering the ship so close to shore. He should be punished for his mysterious absence in the immediate aftermath of the crash and for misleading his crew during a crucial time. Should he be punished for failing to be a hero? Unless there is a hero clause in his contract, the answer is negotiable.
Allana Wooley is a freshman anthropology and history double major from Marble Falls.