CNV00058Quietly, and amid all the mayhem surrounding events in black spots such as Syria and the Ukraine, the trail of the hapless Francesco Schettino, former captain of the capsized Costa Concordia, has been proceeding in a courtroom in Grosetto, Italy.

Media boards and forums have been asking for months why there has been ‘no news’ for several months regarding this, and asking why this was the case. Firstly, there was a lawyers’ strike in Italy not so long ago that slowed proceedings to a paltry few knots.

Then, there was a little something known as ‘due process’, the long and often interminable business of gathering, sifting and filtering the evidence, to eventually arrive at what are, hopefully, the right conclusions.

But yesterday, those that were looking did see something quite unique in the whole ghastly, long drawn out process. For yesterday was the day that the wretched Schettino was taken back to the scene of his epic meltdown.

For the first time since that dreadful night in January of 2012, Francesco Schettino was brought back, face to face with the grisly, mutilated carcass of the ship he had once commanded with such casual aplomb. The site where thirty-two people, assigned to his care, died even as he ‘fell’ into a lifeboat, before disregarding emphatic, heated orders to return to his ship from the local coastguard.

And he wept.

For the first time since that dreadful night, the captain finally broke down in public. Until now, he has always managed to keep his head firmly in the sand, rebutting a tidal wave of disparaging evidence and accusation time and time again. A twenty first century Canute, refusing to accept the inevitable, time and time again. Until yesterday.

What broke him? Was it the sad, battered, shabby corpse of his once beautiful, glittering command? It must certainly have been like a punch to the solar plexus to see the actual reality of this once proud ship, reduced to such an irreperable mess.

Was it the knowledge of those thirty-two lost souls that he had abandoned to their fate? He, the man charged with the care of every soul on his command, under God, for the duration of the voyage?

I suspect it was both.

For here, writ large, was the undeniable, devastating star witness for the prosecution; a grisly, gigantic presence whose final reality could not be denied.

And in that quiet, awful moment, I suspect that the unbearable weight of residual guilt, coupled with the desperate need he felt to maintain that implausible facade of a defence, proved just too much. As it would for anyone.

I do not for one moment condone, defend or excuse one thing that Schettino did during the horrific ordeal of the Costa Concordia. Ultimately, he is the man responsible.

But in that one little moment when Francesco Schettino was finally brought face to face with the wreck of his career, his ship, and his life, I found it impossible not to feel just a shred of pity for him.