The disaster of the Costa Concordia will probably never be forgotten nor will the fact that the captain Franceso Schettino apparently abandoned the ship while there were still hundreds of people aboard. This included two newborns and four disabled people who were not rescued until 2 a.m. I’ve heard various different versions of the story stating that he left sooner.

To add insult to injury the cruise line has magnanimously (a dash of sarcasm here) offered the survivors of the ordeal that any future cruises will have a discount of 30%. Costa Cruises based out of Genoa Italy is owned by Carnival Cruises.

With 4,200 passengers on board, the captain apparently maneuvered the ship too close to the shore of the Tuscan Island of Giglio and struck a rock which appears on navigation maps of the area. You can’t help but see the chunk of rock sticking out of the side of the capsized ship which is just 500 feet from the shore. To date, 24 people are still missing.

The chivalric code of women and children first was absent on the Costa Concordia, with people pushing to get into lifeboats and leaving behind children, pregnant women and disabled people. This mass panic was likely caused by lack of training off the staff but acts of heroism emerged amid chaos and panic.

While the captain was ashore giving television interviews, four men (the ship’s purser, a doctor, a young officer and the deputy mayor of the Giglio island), who boarded the ship after the disaster, saved about 500 trapped passengers.

Although Captain Smith of the Titanic stayed with the ship until the end, the story of captains abandoning sinking ships along with the rats is as old as we’ve had vessels to sail.

According to historical accounts an infamous episode occurred in the 19th century, the steamship S.S. Jeddah. This story became the inspiration for Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim.”

In 1880, , captain Joseph Clark and crew abandoned the Jeddah, convinced that the leaking ship was sinking. There were nearly 1,000 Moslem pilgrims on board on their way to  Mecca. Left to their fate of a watery grave in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, Captain Clark reported his ship as lost only to hear that the S.S. Jeddah had reached port towed by another vessel and with all passengers alive.

Then there was the story of Hughes de Chamreys captain of the frigate Medusa. The Medusa, bound for Senegal, slammed into a reef on July 2, 1816. De Chamreys fled for the frigate’s lifeboats along with some “upper class” passengers and crew and 147 people were set afloat on a makeshift raft.

At first the raft was towed behind the convoy of lifeboats, but was ordered cut free by the captain to be left to a fate of murder and cannibalism.

The raft floated to shore 13 days later with only 15 of the 147 alive. The story shocked Europe and was immortalized in the painting Raft of the Medusa, which is on display at the Louvre in Paris.

More recently in 1991, although all 571 passengers aboard the Greek cruise liner Oceanos survived a well-reported and spectacular sinking off east coast of South Africa, the captain Yianis Avranas was publicly scorned. He actually left the cruise line by rescue helicopter with 170 passengers still on board.

To read up-to-date news about the Costa Concordia click on New York Times.

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