On humanity, murder, manslaughter, and unintended deaths.

Costa Concordia and the duty of Captains

I spent a good portion of my youth out on the water. I attended a special high school in which we built boats in shop class and went out rowing and sailing. Our core class curriculum including a course on Piloting and getting our Safe Boating Certificate.

I also had the opportunity to crew on board a 90 ft traditional wooden Schooner (and a 60 ft ketch). Safety of the passengers was always the foremost responsibility of the crew.

Reading about the Costa Concordia incident initially filled me with frustration and anger – and still does. For a captain and crew to abandon their passengers is a most heinous crime.

There is no doubt that Captain Schettino was craven in his duties. And sadly, this seems to be the historical case when it concerns cruise liner officers.

I myself have been a member of crew on a passenger vessel that ran aground. While our incident had very minimal risk, we’d merely run afoul on a sandy bottom and we were within a mile of a Coast Guard station. We sent our runabout to drop an anchor on the deep side and push on the shallow, winching ourselves the inch or two we need to set float again.

But I’ll never forget that day, nor how infuriated the 1st mate was at the captain. Who was foremost at fault. In thinking back to this tail, it made me reflect on the whole ordeal.

The captain who ran us aground was a nice man. He was one of our relief captains. He was easy going, very friendly and never yelled. But he was not of the same caliber as our other captains. On one occasion he left the wheel unattended to chat with a passenger. And we’ve already mentioned that he ran us aground.

Thinking back on this, caused me to reflect a little further regarding Captain Schettino. I think God was just trying to remind me of my own humanity and failures, and that he still loves me inspite of myself. And I started to mourn for Captain Schettino.

I am still affirmed in my belief that he was craven and grossly negligent. But I also pity the man. He was probably the type of Captain that just liked to have fun, who enjoyed seeing his passengers have a good time. Right now, he is enduring a nightmare of a captain’s greatest fears.

Captain Schettino is on house arrest, and hopefully also under a suicide watch. He is dealing with having lost his ship, the death of passengers, accusations of marital infidelity, and the knowledge that he was craven. That’s not an easy face to wake up to and look at in the mirror every morning. It’s one of those events where you wake up every morning hoping it was just a dream. That it was all imagined…but it wasn’t, it is real.

There is a difference between negligence and cravenness versus a “goblin” of a predator. And I think I had to remember that. I have little sympathy for the man who goes out preying on others, robbing, raping, murderering his fellow beings with deliberate and conscious thought. That is wholly evil. Where as failure is not wholly evil, if anything, it’s quite human. No, it’s far from the noble and decent aspects of humanity. But it’s not the same as the evilness of a criminal predator.

This is why in our laws we have distinctions for causing the death of another human being.

We firstly, look at pre-meditated murder as being the most heinous. This is an act in which one has carefully thought out with determination the taking of another’s life either with specific deliberation or with causality of action (a armed robber engages in his activities with pre-meditated knowledge that they may kill their victim, hence being armed).

Second, we view those acts of passion. The man who comes home to see his wife with another man and in a passionate rage beats the man to death. These we understand the motivation, but convict on the failure of the individual to allow human rationality to control his base animal insticts.

Next we view gross negligence. This is where one’s actions were foolish and led to the death of others. We term this manslaughter as opposed to murder. This includes drunk driving and the events surrounding Captain Schettino. Essentially, as I view it. The deaths were unintended but also avoidable. That is the defining aspect for me.

Lastly, we have two categories. The accidental death without negligence, such as a skateboarder trying to cut through traffic and being hit and killed by a driver of a car. The determination being made that the driver could not have avoided the situation by any reasonable actions of their own. And the other being a justified act of self defense, in which the individual took the life of another in order to prevent grave harm and/or death to themselves.

So while I am angry with Captain Schettino and his negligence causing the deaths of dozens of passengers. I also feel and mourn for this man who’s life is ruined and who will never be able to look into the mirror. Because this wasn’t an evil man, just a weak one.

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