Captain faces manslaughter charge

The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.  The Costa Concordia, carrying 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crewmembers struck rocks along the coast of Italy last week. Evidence tends to prove that this area is known for its rocky sea floor. “There are rocks, they are on the maps,” said Capt. Cosimo Nicastro of the Italian Coast Guard. “What we know is the ship went really close to these rocks. … We don’t yet know why.”

Do we know why the captain was one of the first ashore after the devastating crash? Do you think he should be legally accountable for not  ‘going down with his ship’? Could we consider this as evidence of flight, consciousness of his guilt?

Unfortunately, we hear of manslaughter in the news often in the US. But, do we think of manslaughter in this context? Should the captain be held accountable for the deaths and injuries of his passengers?

If this crash were to occur near the coast of the US, would our criminal justice system charge him with manslaughter?



  1. Although there are not enough facts here to make an educated determination as to whether manslaughter would be an appropriate charge under the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to assume that Schettino could face manslaughter charges. If charged in most jurisdictions in the United States, Schettino would likely be charged with manslaughter II (i.e., involuntary manslaughter). A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter if he recklessly (recklessness to a lesser degree than Murder II), negligently or accidentally commits a homicide (a killing of another human being). Depending on the facts, Schettino may have been acting recklessly or negligently.

    In the criminal law, a person acts recklessly when he or she is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk. A person acts negligently, however, if he or she should have, but did not, know about a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Based on the information in the article, we can say with almost complete certainty, that Schettino was at least acting negligently when he operated the ship such that it came into contact with the rocks. As Nicastro points out, “there are rocks, they are on the map.” It is reasonable to expect Schettino to do his due diligence as a captain of a ship and consult a map prior to making decisions with respect to the ship’s operation.

    Where failure to consult a map and discover the rocks is negligence, knowing about the rocks and still operating the ship such that it travels dangerously close to the rocks is recklessness.

    In addition to criminal charges, Schettino is likely civilly liable. Schettino is negligent in his operation of the ship. In tort – a branch of civil law – negligence requires that a person fail to exercise the level of care exercised by a reasonably prudent person is similar circumstances. A reasonably prudent ship captain would consult a map prior to operating a ship such that he would have warning about the danger posed by protruding rocks. It is likely, however, that the aggrieved passengers would sue the cruise line, the deep pocket, as opposed to suing Schettino personally. In fact, this is exactly what they did:

  2. There is certainly enough here to support a charge of manslaughter under Codice Penale Art. 589 (defining manslaughter as negligently causing the death of another). First, Captain Schettino admits that he took the Costa Concordia off course, running the ship toward the coastline of Giglio as a “salute” for the benefit of ship’s head waiter- a Giglio native. When he saw foam breaking on a submerged outcrop, Capt. Schettino knew he had made a mistake. He turned the ship sharply, causing the hull to collide with the sharp rocks. “I may have done something rash, I did do something rash,” Capt. Schettino told magistrates investigating the accident ( Second, Capt. Schettino testifies that an SOS was only sent thirty to forty minutes after the impact; and further, that no external alarm was activated so as to alert the costal authorities of the seriousness of the situation.

    Further still, new video of the bridge “appears to show senior officers calling for the ship to be abandoned at 10:32pm. Calls of ‘We’re leaving the ship, abandon ship,’ are heard. But the official order telling passengers to evacuate the stricken vessel was not made for another 10 minutes.” Twenty-five minutes prior, the video shows Capt. Schettino in a calm and lackadaisical manner, talking on the phone. “[A]round 25 minutes before the official ‘abandon ship’ signal is given, one official is heard saying: ‘Passengers are getting into the life boats’, to which a man believed to be Schettino replies: ‘Vabbuo’, which means ‘Whatever’ (

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