Alleged Actions by Captain ‘Unforgivable,’ Maritime Lawyer Says


0  Updated at 2:28 am, January 16th, 2012 By: ABC Digital
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ENZO RUSSO/AFP/Getty Images(PORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy) — A maritime law expert called the reported actions of the capsized cruise ship the Costa Concordia ”unforgivable.”

Capt. Francesco Schettino is being detained and questioned about his actions that led to the deaths of at least six people. Among the issues are accusations that the captain abandoned his ship while hundreds of terrified passengers were still aboard struggling to find a way off the darkened ship.

Schettino, who is being held in jail in the town of Grosseto, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

The captain’s lawyer Bruno Leporatti said Monday that Schettino is “distressed, shocked, in pain for the loss of human life, but comforted by the knowledge that he kept lucid enough to carry out a difficult emergency maneuver which, taking the ship into shallow waters, in fact saved the life of many people, guests and crew.”

Others were outraged by reports that Schettino had taken the ship on an authorized route, waited nearly an hour to send out an SOS, and left the stricken ship around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, although many passengers didn’t get rescued till 6 a.m.

“The captain is the master of the vessel,” John H. “Jack” Hickey, a maritime trial lawyer in Miami, told ABC News. “Every crew members looks to the captain for guidance and leadership. He has to take care of life and property in that order. If I were the captain, I’d be out there in boats.”

Hickey said he didn’t know whether a captain abandoning a ship was illegal by any state or federal statute, but he did say that it was protocol and an industry standard that the captain remain.

“It’s what they teach them in maritime school. It’s in the merchant mariners handbook,” said Hickey, who now represents passengers and crew members against cruise lines. Previously he worked as an attorney for the cruise lines.

“It’s the captain’s responsibility to know the waters and avoid coming close to any shoals and reefs. He should know this route,” Hickey said. “The key is to avoid mistakes and when mistakes are made, to react to it appropriately. ”

The ship’s black box reportedly revealed a one-hour lag between the time of impact at 9:45 p.m. local time Friday and the ship’s alarm call to the coast guard at 10:43 p.m. Investigators said they believed the captain was trying to move the ship before alerting authorities, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

There were also reports that some passengers did not know where to meet in case of an emergency and that a drill had been scheduled for the following day.

“There are standards,” Hickey told ABC News Monday. “If the ship is aground hard and you can’t move it … you should be calling ‘May Day’ right then and there. It’s kind of outrageous what happened. It seems unforgivable. Muster drills should be done every time they leave port [with new passengers]. You never put it off.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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