Costa Crociere’s actions after the Costa Concordia casualty undermine the International Safety Management Code and set a precedent for future “blame games” in court after deaths on board ships, says Skaggerak Foundation accident investigator Arne Sagen.
Last week a Grosseto court accepted a €1m ($1.3m) plea bargain from the Carnival-owned cruise line.
In Italy civil cases are heard alongside criminal ones. Preliminary hearings opened on Monday to establish whether Costa Concordia’s master, Francesco Schettino, four crew and the head of the company’s crisis unit should stand trial.
Costa Crociere is seeking damages as part of this which, Mr Sagen says, sets a worrying precedent.
“This is making history, as it is confirming precedence for future of the blame game after ships’ fatalities where the company goes free, but the crew are punished,” he said. “I expected better crew treatment from the famous seafaring Italian nation.”
Mr Sagen highlights the fact that the ISM Code makes senior executives the cornerstone of good safety management and holds the company responsible for establishing procedures to operate a ship safely.
He hopes that the final court trial will clarify how far responsibility extends beyond the master to the company.
Costa Crociere says its role in the trial is that of a “damaged” party for the loss of the ship and that this is a “must” in trials such as this one.
A spokesman for the cruise line says that the judge, Valeria Monetersarchio — who was the judge for the preliminary investigation — has accepted the plea bargain.
“That means that according to the Italian magistrates there is not a contradiction with any international or national codes, rules or laws,” the spokesman says.
Although Costa Crociere may believe the deal is the most reasonable solution for the company, Mr Sagen says that is not the case for the master, as the company prepares to blame him for the casualty.
There has been a media frenzy over the possible guilt of Capt Schettino and some of his comments — he was quoted as saying that the hand of God played a part in the incident — have done little to endear him to the public.
Capt Schettino could face charges of manslaughter, abandoning a ship, causing a shipwreck and misinforming the coastguard.
But although Capt Schettino accepts a degree of wrongdoing, he refuses to stand alone, arguing that others must share the blame for the casualty.
He also claims to have misunderstood the ship’s command procedures, which led to problems with the change of command on the bridge when the situation became critical.
There is also a question about why Costa Concordia veered off course so that those on board could wave at people on shore. Lloyd’s List Intelligence’s Automatic Identification System data revealed that this was not the first time that kind of event took place.
Furthermore, Capt Schettino says that moving the ship in the direction of the port after he took command contributed to saving lives.
The shipping industry was shocked by the speed with which Costa Crociere blamed Capt Schettino for the casualty and consequently fired him.
Mr Sagen highlights clauses in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea stating that no penal or disciplinary proceedings should be instituted against the master or crew except before the judicial or administrative authorities of the flag state.
Capt Schettino is now confined to his home town, Meta di Sorrento, south of Naples, where the courts have restricted his movements. However, he has been given permission to attend the hearings.