Must The Captain Go Down With The Ship?
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Originally Published By: World on HuffingtonPost.com
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STOCKHOLM — Seafaring tradition holds that the captain should be last to leave a sinking ship. But is it realistic to expect skippers – only human after all – to suppress their survival instinct amid the horror of a maritime disaster? To ask them to stare down death from the bridge, as the lights go out and the water rises, until everyone else has made it to safety?
From mariners on ships plying the world’s oceans, the answer is loud and clear: Aye.
“It’s a matter of honor that the master is the last to leave. Nothing less will do in this profession,” said Jorgen Loren, captain of a passenger ferry operating between Sweden and Denmark and chairman of the Swedish Maritime Officer’s Association.
Seamen have expressed almost universal outrage at Capt. Francesco Schettino, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and of abandoning his crippled cruise ship off Tuscany while passengers were still on board. The last charge carries a potential sentence of 12 years in prison.
Jim Staples, a captain for 20 years, who spoke Wednesday from a 1,000-foot (300-meter) cargo vessel he was captaining near New Orleans, said captains are duty-bound to stay with the ship until the situation is hopeless. When they bail early, everything falls apart.
“I’m totally embarrassed by what he did,” he said of Schettino. “He’s given the industry a bad name, he’s made us all look bad. It’s shameful.”
Schettino should have remained on board “until the last passenger is accounted for,” said Abelardo Pacheco, a Filipino captain who was held hostage for five months in Somalia and now heads a seafarers’ training center in Manila.