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Costa Concordia Captain's Unauthorized Detour Blamed for Cruise Ship Disaster

Jan 16, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Costa Crociere SpA is blaming the captain of the doomed Costa Concordia for running the cruise ship aground off the western coast of Italy last Friday.  According to various media reports, the company's chairman and CEO said Monday morning that Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino took an unauthorized detour from the ship's route, bringing it close to the shore of the Italian island of Giglio. The ship struck a rock that tore a 160-foot hole in its hull, and caused the vessel to capsize

Six people are known to have died in the Costa Concordia disaster.  The number of missing has been revised upwards, from 15 yesterday to 29 today.  Divers continue to search the partially submerged ship, hoping to find survivors.  

In order to make the unauthorized detour, Schettino would have had to override the automatic commands and enter his own, Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said at a news conference today, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Under normal circumstances, the ship's computerized navigation system should have immediately detected the route deviation and automatically sounded an alarm on the command bridge of the vessel.  But if Schettino had overridden the automatic commands himself, the alarm wouldn't have sounded. 

Foschi said company policy requires that captains keep their vessels no closer than 500 meters (547 yards) to the Giglio coast.  The Concordia was about 150 meters from the island.

It's not clear why Schettino would have deviated from the approved route.  But Reuters is reporting that a head waiter on the Concordia telephoned his father before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship's whistle as they passed by Giglio, where both the waiter, Antonello Tievoli, and his father live.  An Italian newspaper is reporting that shortly before the collission, the captain called the head waiter to the bridge saying, “Antonello, come see, we are very close to your Giglio.”

The U.K.'s Daily Telegraph is reporting that just prior to the accident, Antonello's sister updated her Facebook status to state: “In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. "A big greeting to my brother who finally gets to have a holiday on landing in Savona."

Schettino was detained in Italy on Saturday on suspicion of manslaughter and abandoning ship.   In the aftermath of the accident, it was reported that the captain had left the Concordia and gone ashore before all 4,200 passengers and crew were evacuated.   Prosecutors say he refused to go back on board when requested to do so by the coast guard.

It's also unclear if the ship sent out an SOS after it hit the rocks and began to list.  According to The Wall Street Journal, an Italian official said that the coast guard learned of the ship's troubles after passengers phoned police to complain. The coast guard then contacted the ship's command at about 10:15 p.m., more than a half-hour after the boat hit the rock formation.

Schettino denies being too close to the coast and says the rock he hit was not marked on charts.

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