COSTA CONCORDIA Conversations

The COSTA CONCORDIA lies on her starboard side on the rocks of Isola del Giglio over a month after becoming the largest passenger ship in history to meet with disaster.  The human toll remains at 32, with 17 bodies recovered and another 15 still missing and presumed dead.  On Sunday, February 12th, SMIT Salvage BV began pumping  the estimated half-million gallons of fuel from one of the 15 tanks aboard the 114,147 gross ton ship.  With some of the tank connections under water and all of them at a nearly right angle to their normal orientation, the process will be much more difficult than simply sucking the fuel out the way it was pumped in.  In addition, the thick fuel must be heated to reduce viscosity to facilitate removal.  Plans call for attaching valves to each fuel tank, one on top and one at the bottom, to suck the oil from the upper while pumping in sea water into the lower end to continuously raise the level of the fuel until it is fully removed.  The salvage company estimates that it will take 28 days to complete this phase of the operation.  Italian officials have said that removing the entire ship either by salvage efforts aimed at re floating the massive 952 foot long ship, or cutting it up on the spot, will take between seven and ten months.

Wreck of the COSTA CONCORDIA. Photo by Roberto Vongher published under Creative Commons license

Meanwhile, new information continues to surface with regards to communications between the ship and Costa headquarters immediately following the wreck.  Costa Crociere CEO, Pier Luigi Fosci gave testimony in a hearing before the Italian Senate stating that Captain Francesco Schettino did keep the company informed of events during the 73-minutes between the ship’s grounding at 9:42 pm and the order to evacuate at approximately 10:55 pm.   Previously, Fosci stated that the captain contacted Costa’s shoreside operations at 10:05 pm but they could not assess the gravity of the situation because the captain’s conversation provided only vague information which “did not correspond to the truth.”  In the new testimony, the first call was placed at least eight minutes earlier to Costa’s head of marine operations, Roberto Ferrarini.  At least six calls were made before the order was given to abandon ship, with the line receiving updated information as events progressed.  Pier Luigi Foschi’s testimony included these excerpts:  “At 9:57,  Schettino said he had a huge problem on board, that a blackout was in course, that there wasn’t any electrical current.  He told Ferrarini that he hit a rock.  In that first call, the commander said that only one compartment was flooded.  In a second call, at 10:06, the captain reported the flooding of a second compartment but said the ship’s ability to float ‘wasn’t compromised.'”  Earlier at 9:49 pm, the Italian Coast Guard contacted the ship after being alerted through calls from passengers to shore.  “Concordia, we are calling to ask if everything is okay?”  Captain Schettino replied, “Yes, it’s just a technical thing.”  At 10:12 pm, the Coast Guard called again and was told “It’s all okay, it’s just a blackout, we’re taking care of the situation.”  Captain Schettino again contacted marine operations at 10:16 pm and continued his discussion with Mr. Ferrarini regarding “the size of the breach,” Foschi said and between 10:33 and 10:35 pm, Schettino informed Ferrarini the vessel was listing and that he planned to abandon ship.  The information provided by Pier Luigi Foschi was from a memorandum prepared by Ferrarini detailing the conversations with Captain Schettino.

While the new testimony does not absolve the captain of any wrongdoing, it does show that he was at least communicating the situation to the company, if not to the Coast Guard.  The most damning exchange of conversations that evening came much later at around 12:42 am, when Captain Schettino was already in a lifeboat.  The following is a complete transcript of the four-minute call from Italian Coast Guard Captain Gregorio De Falco to Captain Francesco Schettino.  As the conversation progressed, it became more and more heated, with De Falco obviously shocked and outraged.  With the translation from Italian to English being subject to some slightly different variations of words, this represents a very accurate summation of the conversation.

WARNING:  The transcript contains language that some might find objectionable!

De Falco:  Hello.  This is De Falco speaking from Livorno. Am I speaking with the commander?  Hello?

Schettino: Yes. Good evening, Captain De Falco.

[The above exchange is basically repeated a second time]

De Falco:  Please tell me your name.

Schettino:  This is Captain Schettino, commander.

De Falco:  Schettino? Listen Schettino. There are people trapped on board. Now you need to go on your boat under the bow of the  ship on the [starboard] side.  There is a pilot ladder. You need to climb up the ladder and board the ship.  You go on board and report to me how many people there are.  Is that clear?  I’m recording this conversation, Captain Schettino.’

Schettino:  Commander, let me tell you one thing… [Inaudible]

De Falco:  Speak up!

Schetinno:  The ship at this moment.  I am here in front of…

De Falco:  Captain,  Speak up!  Shield the microphone with your hand and speak more loudly, is that clear?

Schettino:  So at this moment, the ship  is tilted.  [or tipping]

De Falco:  I understand.  I understand.  Listen, there are people that are coming down the ladder on the bow. You go up that  ladder in the opposite direction, get back on the ship and tell me how many people there are and what they have on board.  Is that clear?  Tell me if there are children, women and what kind of help they need.  And you tell me the exact number of each of these categories.  Is that clear?  Look Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will really hurt you [or “make you look very bad” or “I will cause you a boatload of trouble”].  I will make you pay for this.  Get back on board you prick.

Schettino:  Commander, please…

De Falco:  There is no, “please” about it.  Go back on board.  Assure me you are going back on board.  They are telling me that on board there are still…

Schettino:  I am here with the rescue boats under the ship.  I am here.  I haven’t gone anywhere, I am here…

De Falco:   What are you doing, captain?

Schettino:  I am coordinating.

De Falco:   What are you coordinating there?  Get on board the ship and coordinate the rescue from on board.  [Inaudible]  Are you refusing?

Schettino:  No, no, I am not refusing.

De Falco:  Are you refusing to go aboard captain?  Tell me the reason  you are not going.

Schettino:  I am not going because there is another lifeboat that has stopped.

De Falco:  Get on board!  This is an order.  You need to continue the rescue.  Don’t make any more excuses.  You admitted to having abandoned the ship. [or “You called the evacuation”]  Now I am in charge.  Get back on board!  Is that clear? Captain, can you hear me?

Schettino:  I am going.

De Falco:  Go!  [Inaudible]  Call me when you are on board. My air rescue team is there.  He is at the bow.  Get going!  There are already corpses, Schettino.  Move!

Schettino:  How many corpses are there?

De Falco:  I don’t know.  I know about one.  One I am aware of.  You need to be telling me this.  Christ!

Schettino:  But you are aware it is dark and we can’t see anything?

De Falco:  And what do you want?  To go back home, Schettino?  It is dark and you want to go back home?  Get on the bow of the ship and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what do they need.   Now!

Schettino:  I am going.  I am here with my second in command.

De Falco:  What?

Schettino:  I am here with the second commander.  His name is…

De Falco:  So both of you, get on board, both of you.  What is the name of the second?

Schettino:  Dimitri…

De Falco:  Dimitri who?  [Inaudible]  You and your second commander go and get on board, now.  Is that clear?

Schettino:  Dimitri Christidis.  Commander, I want to get on board the ship but the other lifeboat here, it stopped its engine.  It stopped and it is drifting and I called other rescuers.

De Falco: It has been an hour that you have been telling me the same thing.  Now, get on board.  Get on board!  And report to me immediately and you tell me how many people there are.  Go now!

Schettino:  Okay, commander.

De Falco:  Go, right now!

Thus ended the conversation.  Francesco Schettino never went back aboard the COSTA CONCORDIA.  While staying with the ship is the unwritten law of the sea, it is not established in international maritime law.  However, in some countries including Italy, it is included in their national laws.  A popular t-shirt being sold in Italy repeats the words spoken by Commander De Falco:  “Vada a bordo, cazzo!!
Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake
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