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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Captain of the Ship - The Skinny

I do not want to in any way demean or belittle the victims of the tragic ocean liner disaster in Italy, where the Captain ran his ship onto a rock. The ship subsequently listed to its starboard side and capsized, killing over a dozen, leaving a couple dozen more missing. I am no sea-farer, but I can only imagine the horror all too vividly - being trapped on a big boat in the dark and eventually drowning. All just off the coast of Tuscany. My heart goes out to the families of the passengers and crew who have lost loved ones on the Costa Concordia.

That said, I am appalled with what I have read about the Captain of the ship, a Francesco Schettino, who is currently in jail, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship (italics mine). I get the manslaughter and "causing a shipwreck" charges, but for a Captain to be charged with abandoning his ship seems like the ultimate slap to the face of all the other Captains who have ever, in the traditional maritime manner, "gone down with the ship".

I am the first to admit that I would have jumped on a lifeboat at the first sign of danger, but I am a coward and afraid of the sea and all things that live there. I fear being eaten, stung, bitten, prodded or taunted by the fish, amoeba and bacteria that make the ocean their home and as anyone knows who has ever dared attempt a conversation of the sea with me, it is my paranoid opinion that the second we set foot in the ocean, we instantly become simply a part of the food-chain. The part of the food chain that doesn't have gills, scales, flippers or the ability to survive in the heat or cold of the sea. In other words - the low-hanging fruit of the sea-food tree. Yes, I would have been on a lifeboat along with the women and children in a stolen dress and wig at the first inkling of trouble afoot, but then again, I didn't sign up to be a Sea Captain.

Imagine being on an airplane, feeling turbulence and receiving a message from the pilot that there was some problem with one or two of the engines. Then, a moment later, seeing the pilot, with his parachute flying past your window. No pilot I have ever met would ever even consider such a thing. Perhaps if my second wife had a pilot's license, she would do it, but only to kill me - the rest of the passengers would be considered acceptable collateral damage. It is the same with skippers - the ship is their responsibility and those aboard it their charges. I have always considered Sea Captains to be a noble lot - I cannot imagine Edmund Fitzgerald abandoning his ship, or Captain Quint from the movie "Jaws" - hell no. Granted, Captain Quint was usually too drunk to consider abandoning ship, but that is neither here, nor there. He was there 'til the bitter end, when he was swept into the maw of the giant mechanical shark - which I also fear - which promptly proceeded to eat him.

However, my legendary fear of the deep is not why I'm writing today.

As it happens, the Italian Coast Guard were in full-blown rescue mode and tracked down Schettino and his first mate in a lifeboat some distance away from the listing ocean liner. I paraphrase, but the translated conversation went something like this:

CG: Captain, where are you?
CAPTAIN: Uhhhhmmm... I'm, uh, on a lifeboat.
CG: What? Please repeat.
CAPTAIN: Yes, I'm on a lifeboat, floating to safety.
CG: Why aren't you on the boat, supervising the evacuation of the passengers?
CAPTAIN: I AM. I'm doing it from my IPad...
CG: Seriously?
CAPTAIN: Yes - it's nice. I got if for Christmas - a gift from my wife...
CG: My boat is under the bow of the ship and we are conducting rescue operations from a ladder leading from the deck of the liner.
CAPTAIN: It sounds like you have everything under control. Should I turn off my IPad to conserve battery power?
CG: WE NEED YOU ON THE SHIP! I want to know how many people are in there and what type of help they need!
CAPTAIN: Just a second - my IPad froze...
CAPTAIN: Here, talk to my first mate - he's here, too. He's got a laptop...


And now Captain Schettino is under lock and key, waiting to have the maritime book thrown at him and I hope he gets all he deserves. The lesson I learned today is that in the event of a nautical disaster, I do not necessarily have to steal a dress and wig - I merely have to locate the Captain and hang on tight. Of course, this could backfire on me - I could get one of those brave souls who would never consider setting foot on a lifeboat before every man, woman or child was safely off the doomed vessel, but then again, I could find the Captain and wear my pretty dress and wig. Then all my bases would be covered.

Or, I could simply continue to vacation on shore.

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