Who’s to Blame? The Captain of the Costa Concordia was Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Tales of the ill-fated Italian cruise ship have painted the captain as negligent and responsible for the deaths of 32 people off the island of Giglio in Italy.  But was it really only the captain’s fault?  The poor decisions that Captain Francesco Schettino made, performing a maneuver near the rocky coast and abandoning the ship before all passengers were safely removed, have correctly identified him as a major culprit.  However, the owner of the cruise line, Costa Cruciere, as well as the parent company of Carnival, are going to have many fingers pointed their way in the coming months.

After an initial fact finding hearing, which had to be removed to a theater to accommodate all the complainants, pointed out significant flaws in the evacuation procedures and emergency responses of the crewmembers made the situation worse.  Schettino argues that the blame cannot rest solely on his shoulders, but rather should be focused on his subordinates who failed to execute the evacuation procedures.  It is highly unlikely that the blame will end there.  The corporation in charge of the safety procedures failed miserably in its preparation and training, and should be the ones found negligent and guilty of manslaughter.

The corporation has a duty to the patrons of its company to ensure their safety.  In the cruise line business, it is common practice to have a mandatory evacuation drill for the passengers because it will allow them the opportunity to see what would happen in the event of an emergency.  According to the documents presented, there were a number of passengers who did not participate in this crucial process.  Furthermore, it was found that many of the crewmembers responsible for the execution of the drills did not speak the native language of Italian, and many did not have the necessary safety certifications.

This responsibility undoubtedly lies with the parent company to ensure that their employees are fully certified and execute the safety protocols.  While there is no way to ensure that the crewmembers performed their duties, the parent company is ultimately responsible for the actions of their agents unless they act outside the scope of their employment.  An accident such as the one that occurred is foreseeable and the parent company should have put more pressure on the crewmembers to abide by the set of rules put in place.

Captain Schettino is undoubtedly guilty of manslaughter for negligently maneuvering the vessel and abandoning the ship without regard to the safety of the passengers under his care, but the company that failed to properly train its employees is equally to blame.  The lawyers representing the victims and families affected said it best when they said “[t]here is a consistent pattern of lack of discipline … and communication problems…[t]his accident will happen again.”  How high up should the blame reach or is the captain the only responsible party?

Source: USA Today


  1. I agree with Dan; this is a clear example of the agency principal. The company was required, for good reason, to have these safety procedures in place and have them practiced by the passengers. The policy reasons behind the agency principal make it easy to understand why the company should share the liability for the injuries and deaths from this accident. One could ask how many people would not have died if the protocols had been followed and all of the crew members were properly certified. By not making the company responsible for its actions, or lack thereof, it would be unfair to the families of the victims and unsafe for future passengers.

  2. While some may argue otherwise, cruise ships place people in inherently dangerous situations. I for one am not a fan of that vulnerability. Having strictly enforced safety training and evacuation procedures is an absolute necessity on cruise ships. There is no wiggle room when it comes to safety. While we would all like to think our cruise ship captain would honorably stay at the ship’s wheel like in Titanic, for most situations that is not the case. Captains will not always make the right decision, and they may also exit the boat before all the passengers do in an emergency. Travelers assume the risk of human judgment by ship captains when boarding the vessel. What they don’t assume is a lack of training and preparation of the staff. This is not to say that a captain should not follow procedural guidelines on how to navigate, and if he was negligent he should absolutely be punished. However, the brunt of the blame lies on the corporation for not adequately supervising and training its employees when the lives of so many could have been saved with the proper implementation of procedure.

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