INDOLENT ITALY- DREAMING WIDE AWAKE

Italy. Just say it. It sounds good. It feels exotic. A land as full of temptations as any Venetian coffee house, and one no less surprising in terms of sheer, splendid variety.

Consider wandering the streets of ancient Rome, one of the greatest cities on earth. You can drink Chianti and feast on prosciutto within sight of the hulking, ruined grandeur of the Coliseum, where men once literally fought for their lives, while swarms of scooters buzz past like swarms of maddened wasps.

You could savour the wonderful, indolent dolce vita lifestyle on the Olympian, lemon scented heights of stunning Sorrento, where people watching is an art form in itself. Or you could head down to the waterfront lidos, jutting out like spindly fingers into the azure blue hue of the balmy Mediterranean.

History and hedonism combine perfectly in vast, atmospheric Venice, where a glut of slowly crumbling, cake rich renaissance palaces, churches and theatres line vast, meandering canals where gondolas pout at the masses of summer tourists. Sample a real Bellini at Harry’s Bar, where the famous drink was originally invented, or take in the sounds of a full orchestra as you sip café in the unparalleled elegance of Piazza San Marco.

Something more tranquil, perhaps? Head for the vast, sparkling expanse of Lake Como, where million dollar villas peep out from amid vast tracts of deep, rolling greenery. Savour cocktails on the terrace of some wonderful old Grand Hotel, as the slowly setting sun turns the waters of the lake into  a sea of blazing straw.

For a real taste of Italian flair and style, check out tiny, picture perfect Portofino, a serene sweep of old Italianate architecture in shades of ochre and terracotta, wrapped around a sublime, yacht studded harbour like an elegant charm bracelet. People wearing sun glasses worth the entire national debt of small third world country pick at freshly caught fish and mouth watering paella.

For quirky history, meander up to small, patrician Pisa and gaze in awe at the infamous Bell Tower, the Campanile, shearing a full dozen feet from the vertical. Nearby is Florence, with its fabled Statue of David, world class museums, and the amazing medieval shopping arcade on the old bridge, spanning the mighty Arno.

You could check out the countryside of rustic, rolling Tuscany, with its smart, secluded villas and small, timeless towns, where houses still cluster around the bell tower of the local church as if for safety. Here, life seems to take on a timeless, otherworldly kind of quality.

This is just a small sample in the box of delights that is summertime Italy. Get out there and enjoy them. Live la dolce vita for yourself, and experience the difference between merely existing and truly living. Wonderful stuff.

Pisa

Pisa

LAID BACK LIPARI- AN ITALIAN IDYLL

Good morning, Lipari!

Good morning, Lipari!

One of the most rarely visited islands in the entire Italian Mediterranean is Lipari, the largest of the so called Aeolian Islands, located just to the north of Sicily. With a population not much in excess of 11,000, Lipari looks- and feels-like something of a one horse town.

And therein lies it’s unique charm. With no pier capable of docking them, most cruise ships simply sail past Lipari, on their way to the ‘greatest hits’ ports along the west coast of Italy. Only a handful of smaller, intimate vessels find their way to the anchorage just offshore, and tender their passengers into what is, quite literally, the centre of town.

Here, dogs sleep in the shade of side streets, while lines of washing hang limp between window shutters in the mid day heat. An occasional motor scooter might splutter into life like a sporadically maddened wasp. Every so often, the ancient church bells peal dolefully across the narrow expanse of the sparkling briny.

Other than that, the loudest sound is usually that of freshly caught fish, sizzling in a restaurant kitchen. Here, the sounds, smells and sheer sense of classic Italian dolce vita conspire to gang up on you and simply mug you. Because Lipari is not only pretty; it is breathtakingly so.

The obvious sense of intimacy lends it a charm often lost in much larger, more tourist orientated spots. You have none of the crowds of a Sorrento summer here, and none of the ghastly souvenir shops that loom like carbuncles at the entrance to seething, petrified Pompeii. No, Lipari is simple, pared down beauty. Here, less is most definitely more.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you taking a languid wander around the town. Up on the hill, you’ll find the silent stone walls of a massive, Spanish built fortress. It was built in 1556, on the site of an ancient Greek acropolis. Back in its day, it was the only truly safe place on the island. Pirates still roamed these waters into the early part of the nineteenth century.

Lipari at one time was also used to confine political prisoners. One of it’s most stellar involuntary residents was Edda Mussolini, daughter of the deposed, royally dismissed former Duce.

You can ponder this history over the rim of your wine glass, as the afternoon sun catches it and throws the whole, dreamy sprawl of the day into a different light and perspective. But Lipari, name and place, is more about indolent, platinum chip hedonism than anything else.

Enjoy!

Small, perfect and rugged

Small, perfect and rugged

The old Spanish castle

The old Spanish castle

The stuff of dreams

The stuff of dreams

The stunning waterfront

The stunning waterfront

Silver Spirit off Lipari

Silver Spirit off Lipari

Sun, sea, and stone

Sun, sea, and stone

Typical, old world Italy

Typical, old world Italy

Ship and shoreline

Ship and shoreline

Rugged seascapes everywhere

Rugged seascapes everywhere

Rock and rolling sea

Rock and rolling sea

Lipari amphitheater

Lipari amphitheater

Old church tower

Old church tower

Castle summit

Castle summit

If walls could talk.....

If walls could talk…..

Another vantage point

Another vantage point

Suumer time blooms

Summer time blooms

Spectacular view from the ship

Spectacular view from the ship

Boats and battlements

Boats and battlements

Twilight in paradise....

Twilight in paradise….

GORGEOUS GENOA- A CLASSIC ITALIAN BEAUTY

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa's skyline

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa’s skyline

One of Italy’s greatest ports and also one of the original, hugely powerful city states that pre dated the unification of Italy, Genoa today is a vastly under rated, beautiful city. Awash with gloriously over the top Renaissance statuary and architecture, it has never quite attracted the same level of kudos and amazement as, say, Venice, Florence, or Rome.

Located on the extreme north west tip of Italy, Genoa is almost right on the border with France. A train from here will have you in Monaco in just three hours.

The port has been the epicentre of Italian ocean travels for over a century. All of the great Italian ocean liners- from the Rex and the Conte Di Savoia, through to the Andrea Doria, the Michelangelo and the Raffaello- started their maiden voyages from here. All called this great sea city their home.

Set on a series of rolling hills that cradle a stunning natural amphitheatre, Genoa has much in common with cities such as Lisbon; you see it in the Italianate architecture painted in a riot of pastel shades;  in the vast, overblown monuments to local heroes such as Christopher Columbus, and in the trams that crawl sluggishly into the hills.

But though the city is a riot of undiscovered and extensive glories, modern Genoa is not simply some Gothic theme park. The long, gracefully curving waterfront has one of the most fantastic aquariums in Europe, and literally hundreds of bars and waterfront cafes that brim with life in the long summer days and nights. There’s even the giant pirate ship built for the multi million dollar move, Cut Throat Island, now a popular local attraction.

And, of course, the big ships do still sail from here, too. Year round, the giant cruise ships of MSC Cruises and Costa Crociere  still ghost in and out of the ancient sea city, along with many others. With the gorgeous fishing villages of the Cinque Terre region almost within shouting distance, many big cruise ships use Genoa as a base from which to allow their passengers to explore such famous beauties as Portofino and Alassio.

While there is much to see and savour in those amazing, idyllic little slices of the good life, it is still nothing short of amazing that hordes of arriving passengers still give barely a second look at the swaggering, gorgeous city that actually welcomes them. For far too long, Genoa- or Genova to give her the Italian name- has been a hugely under rated destination in her own right.

And, when you’ve checked out these pictures, you- like me- might be left with one simple question; why?

Genoa's imposing cruise ship terminal

Genoa’s imposing cruise ship terminal

Awe inspiring Genoa

Awe inspiring Genoa

Rich and colourful

Rich and colourful

Italianate echoes

Italianate echoes

Old and even older

Old and even older

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Ice cream colors prevail here

Ice cream colors prevail here

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Tram ride

Tram ride

Love these stunning buildings

Love these stunning buildings

Palms and passageway pastiche

Palms and passageway pastiche

Ancient clock tower

Ancient clock tower

Did someone say 'pirate ship'?

Did someone say ‘pirate ship’?

Now that's big

Now that’s big

Genoa is a bustling city

Genoa is a bustling city

Facade of the cathedral

Facade of the cathedral

Want Lions? There you go

Want Lions? There you go

And that's 'arrivederci Genova'....

And that’s ‘arrivederci Genova’….

CIAO COSTA CONCORDIA; JULY 22nd UPDATE

The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

Almost two and a half years after she hit rocks and capszied off the small Italian island of Giglio, the scarred, ghastly remains of the once proud Costa Concordia are finally ready to begin the final voyage to the scrapyard.

By one of those awful coincidences that seem to litter the pages of maritime history, the 114,000 ton Costa Concordia is going to be demolished in Genoa, Italy, where the ship was originally built back in 2006.

Numerous bids had been tendered to dispose of the partially refloated wreck, including one from Middlesbrough in the UK;  but the choice by Costa of the port of Genoa was made on grounds of proximity rather than cost. The tow from Giglio to Genoa is estimated to take five days. This is probably about as much exposure to open water as the fragile wreck can realistically sustain. As things stand, the tow is slated to begin on July 20th.

The immense salvage operation was the largest ever conducted on a partially sunken ship. Partially refloated by a method known as ‘parbuckling’, the wallowing hulk currently rests on a man made platform. Over the next few weeks, a series of man made sponsons will be attached to the hull, as a prelude to the tow.

The accident, which led to the deaths of thirty two passengers on board, occurred on January 13th, 2012, just hours after the Costa Concordia had left the port of Civitavecchia at the start of a seven night Mediterranean cruise. The story created world wide headlines at the time; a saga  fuelled by the actions of her captain, Francesco Schettino, who abandoned his command while thousands of his passengers were still stranded on board the listing ship.

A court of inquiry subsequently found five officers and crew members of the Costa Concordia guilty of negligence. The trial of Schettino himself is currently ongoing, though at a fairly desultory rate of knots.

Now, with the announcement of the imminent scrapping of the desolate hulk, Costa will no doubt be hoping to assume some forward momentum again. With the recent establishment of the ‘Neocollection’ of cruises being offered on smaller, more intimate ships, and the coming November launch of a new flagship, the even bigger Costa Diadema, the company is slowly gathering way once more.

No doubt the good people of Giglio will be glad to see the back of the grisly, hulking ruin that has blighted their horizon for two and a half years. Having lived through the disaster itself, the rescue, and then the media tsunami that followed, perhaps life there can once again assume a semblance of its former normality.

JUNE 11th UPDATE:

Word is being circulated via the GCaptain website (http://www.gcaptain.comthat the final timetable outlined above for removal of the Costa Concordia wreck may well be delayed.

A final green light for this was expected oh June 16th this year. However, Italy’s Department of Civil Protection, meeting in Rome to discuss the wreck disposal in greater detail, has asked for a nine day extension to look at the plans for salvage and ultimate disposal in greater detail. A decision is now expected on June 25th.

What effect- if any- these deliberations will have on the plans outlined above is as yet uncertain. As ever, stay tuned.

JULY 4TH UPDATE: 

Yesterday, the last of thirty sponsons was attached to the still half submerged hull of the Costa Concordia. The Italian government has now given final, formal consent for the demolition of the wreck to be carried out in Genoa.

Final preparations were expected to be completed by the middle of July, but with the last of the sponsons now in place, it is possible that she might reach her final port before the original target date, set for the end of this month.

As always, stay tuned.

JULY 22ND UPDATE:

As of today, the slowly surfacing wreckage has emerged some eleven metres in all, leaving another three metres to go before the long delayed tow to the scrapping berth at Genoa can finally begin.

This will be carried out by what amounts to a funeral cortege of some fourteen vessels; tug boats, oil spill recovery vessels, some multi purpose craft and, apparently, even a sailboat.

Delayed by high winds thus far, this final tow is currently due to start on Wednesday.

TWO NEW SHIPS FOR OCEANIA?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Increasingly strong rumours are circulating that Oceania Cruises is about to announce an order for a pair of new builds. The two ships are expected to be built in the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy.

The two ships are said to be similar to the previous two Fincantieri new builds, the 66,000 ton sister ships, Marina and Riviera. With a capacity for around 1260 passengers each, these two vessels provided a significant upgrade for the line. Since their introduction in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the two sister ships have garnered rave reviews for their food, service and elegant, sophisticated ambiance. A continuation on the same theme thus seems infinitely sensible.

Oceania Cruises was formed in 2003. Under the stewardship of industry stalwarts Joe Watters, formerly of Crystal, and Frank Del Rio of Renaissance, the company began operations with a pair of 30,000 ton, ex-Renaissance ships, relaunched as the Regatta and Insignia respectively.

From the beginning, Oceania placed an emphasis on excellent service and stellar dining. At the time, the company had the highest per passenger spend on food in the entire cruise industry. In the early years, the ships were sent on longer, twelve nights plus cruises all over Europe and the Caribbean.

So popular did their intimate style prove that the company took on a third of the ex-Renaissance ships. Restyled as the  Nautica, they sent her on more extensive itineraries, centered around the Far East. Meanwhile, Insignia was chartered out to Hapag Lloyd Cruises for a two year term. That recently ended and the ship, after a substantial refurbishment, is once more back in the Oceania fold.

The debut of Marina and Riviera showcased a pair of sister ships more than twice the size of the original trio, without sacrificing the elegant largesse of the original concept. The new design allowed for the inclusion of several separate dining areas, such as the highly acclaimed Red Ginger, and permitted the inclusion of some truly spectacular, top drawer suites in excess of 2,000 square feet. These easily rank as some of the most sumptuous apartments anywhere at sea.

These two spectacular ships have been so successful that all three of the original trio have now been tweaked to incorporate design elements of the Marina/Riviera. Little wonder that the two new ships are expected to be a continuation on what has been a hugely popular theme, rather than an attempt at creating something radical.

Oceania is not really a line for those looking for extensive night life and top drawer entertainment.  Rather, it has carved out a solid niche for itself as an operator of highly styled, well fed and superbly served ships. And the addition of another two ships would take the company to seven, giving it quite an extensive deployment handle.

As always, stay tuned for any developments.

FOUR NEW ORDERS FOR FINCANTIERI?

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

I mentioned in a previous blog that MSC Cruises were very strongly rumoured to be about to announce a second pair of new builds, in addition to the pair of new mega ships just ordered from the French shipyard, STX. It now looks like that announcement could be imminent.

The two new Italian builds are bruited to be of around 152,000 tons, with a length of some 310 metres each, and a projected total cost of some 1.4 billion euros. The first ship could be slated for delivery as early as 2017.

And- as previously alluded- the same yard is also expected to announce confirmation of yet another order, this time for a brace of sister ships for Oceania Cruises. Unlike the new MSC designs, these two vessels are reported to be another pair of sisters for that company’s first two, highly popular new builds, Marina and Riviera.

The Italian yard has been fantastically busy, and indeed it still is. As well as the above projected announcements, Fincantieri is also cutting the steel, ready for all four of the Lirica class lengthenings. Beginning at the end of the autumn, each ship will be cut in half, then have a new mid section inserted.

The yard is also in the process of putting the finishing touches to the rival Costa Cruises new flagship, the Costa Diadema, which is due to debut this coming November, and is also building the fourth, expanded Odyssey class ship for Seabourn, as well as the new Seven Seas Explorer for Regent Seven Seas, the first new ship for that line in more than a decade.

The yard has literally just delivered the second of class Regal Princess, and is working now on outfitting the Britannia for P&O Cruises, a vessel built to the same design. In addition, the yard is also building the 47,000 ton cruise ship, Viking Star, for Viking Cruises, and also two similar sized sister ships which have recently been confirmed.

This construction programme amounts to a quite astonishing coup for the Fincantieri yard. While the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean continue to favour the Meyer Werft yard at Papenburg for their new builds, and the once dominant shipyards of Finland seem to be floundering, it is the Italian yard that is picking up orders for a whole raft of diverse new cruise ship designs, ranging from the mass market to the ultra luxury products.

With an enviable record for delivering superb quality vessels, on time and within budgets, the dominance of Fincantieri as the world’s pre eminent builder of cruise ships seems assured, at least for the next few years.

As always, stay tuned.

THE GHOST OF CONCORDIA; SCHETTINO GOES BACK ABOARD

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.

VIKING CRUISES GO TO FOUR

Raising a glass to raising the bar

Raising a glass to raising the bar

According to reports on Seatrade Insider today, start up line Viking Ocean Cruises has ordered a second pair of cruise ships from Italy’s Fincantieri yard to complement the first pair, already on order.

These two ships, both of 47,800 tons, will arrive in mid 2016 and early 2017 respectively, and will follow on the same general style and theme as lead ship, Viking Star, due to debut in 2015.

This line is going to be an exciting prospect to watch, being very much a ‘back to the future’ style of cruise product. The emphasis is firmly on style rather than hype, with gimmickry and headline grabbing amenities quietly eschewed in favour of elegant, well served ships, constructed on a scale that still allows them to visit a number of smaller, more exclusive ports.

Indeed, a company offering this kind of style and uniformity of product has not been seen since the heyday of Royal Viking Line- on which the new company seems to be drawing both a stylistic and aesthetic bead- and it’s one time rival, the fabled Norwegian America Line. In effect, the new line is selling quiet, cool, highly styled understatement.

Realistically, I would think that this potentially very alluring quartet will have its sights set on acquiring the same passenger demographic that currently gravitate to the likes of Oceania Cruises and its competitor, Azamara Club Cruises.

Viking Ocean Cruises had, in the past, concentrated on creating and operating a fleet of highly regarded river cruise vessels. To some degree, the creation of an ocean going extension allows for some interesting cross passenger capabilities that its rivals do not possess.

Key to the ultimate success of Viking Ocean Cruises will be the establishment and retention of a top drawer management team ashore and, even more importantly, the creation of a seasoned, savvy command nucleus for each of the new ships as it comes on line. As yet, names are largely absent from company literature.

Initial renderings of the pioneer Viking Star reveal a ship with a long, sleek profile and a graceful clipper prow, with a superstructure topped by a single, aft placed funnel. And, while Fincantieri will be producing a quartet with no shortage of balcony accommodations, the lines of the ship are clean, sweeping and dramatic.

All of this is fascinating to watch; is Viking Ocean Cruises indeed about to tap into some deep, residual well of cruise passengers that are not enamoured of the options currently on the market? Time alone will tell on that front.

As ever, stay tuned.

DECLINE IN LA DOLCE VITA? CRUISE NUMBERS TO ITALY SET TO DROP OVER 2014

Pompeii remains a staple of the Italian cruise circuit

Pompeii remains a staple of the Italian cruise circuit

New figures released today suggest that 2014 will see the first fall in cruise ship passenger numbers visiting Italy for more than a decade.

While 2013 figures are estimated to show a five per cent overall increase on 2012, next year’s numbers are expected to be down. Hardly surprising, in light of the fact that a few of the usual summer Mediterranean mega ships have been pulled from the region. Royal Caribbean had already announced one ship less sailing the Med next year, and Carnival is leaving Europe altogether over the course of 2014.

Next year’s drop in numbers is conservatively estimated at 6.9 per cent, with actual visitor numbers pegged at over ten million for Italy as a whole.

Another factor being cited for the withdrawal of some cruise ships is a lack of flexibility among Italian port authorities in terms of berthing arrangements, a bugbear that has frustrated the major cruise lines for a number of seasons of late.

The figures, compiled by Venice based company Riposte, Turismo, analysed data supplied from some thirty six ports around mainland Italy and Sicily. It estimates that a staggering 11,4 million people will visit Italian ports over the course of 2013- up 5.1 per cent on 2012- but expects numbers to tail off next year.

It’s interesting to note the numbers involved for the principal ports of call, as listed in order below;

1) Civitavecchia, the port of call for Rome, lists 2.4 million passengers from around 951 cruise ship visits.

2) Venice claims 1.8 million from some 548 ship visits.

3) Naples had 1.2 million visitors from 517 different ship calls.

4) Genoa, which has just clocked over a million visitors from some 290 calls.

The figures for Genoa especially are revealing; the port has long been seen primarily as an embarkation/debarkation port, rather than as a destination in its own right like Venice and Rome.

The Coliseum makes Rome an unmissable draw

The Coliseum makes Rome an unmissable draw

However, Italy as a whole remains the biggest draw on the Mediterranean circuit. With a string of ‘greatest hits’ attractions such as Florence, Pisa, Rome, Sorrento and Pompeii all within easy sailing distance of each other, the country is still uniquely placed to showcase a huge amount of it’s history and culture, even over the course of a relatively short cruise.

Also encouraging for the long term Italian scene as a whole is the continuing growth in year round cruising. Uniquely sited in the centre of the Mediterranean, Italy offers convenient embarkation ports in Genoa and Rome to the Western Mediterranean, and from both Venice and, to a lesser extent, Bari, to the currently convoluted Eastern Mediterranean.

The figures cited above probably represent no more than a temporary dip in what has been a steady growth market for many years. As ever, stay tuned.

SCHETTINO ON TRIAL, AND THE GHOSTS OF THE PAST

CNV00002Even as the grisly, ghostly remains of the Costa Concordia rose sluggishly from her watery grave off the island of Giglio, the trial of her former captain, Francesco Schettino, was going full speed ahead in a converted opera house in Grosseto, Italy.

Unlike his five co-accused, the wretched Schettino has not been allowed to enter a plea bargain. His defence team are now conducting their stand along the extraordinary idea that Schettino alone was not responsible for the grounding and subsequent sinking of the ship under his command.

This ghastly playing with semantics will no doubt be of much concern to the families of the thirty two victims of the Costa Concordia, or indeed, the thousands of traumatized survivors, both passengers and crew, that lived through the terrible events of that dreadful night back in January of 2012. Frankly, for Schettino to contest that he is not solely responsible is more than laughable.

Because, as captain of the ship, he had the ultimate responsibility for- and to- all those under his care and command. And that duty did not end when the Concordia came shuddering to a halt after ripping her hull open. And in the exercise of that care and effort, Schettino failed spectacularly.

One of his officers has testified under oath that his captain seemed lost and uncomprehending after the disaster. Lost, indeed, to the extent that he failed to order an abandon ship, and lost to the extent that he failed to notify the local authorities of any accident to his ship, Indeed, so ‘lost’ that he ‘fell’ into a lifeboat, and then left his grounded ship while there were literally thousands still left on board. in the freezing darkness.

But if Schettino did indeed go to pieces after realising the enormity of what had happened to his ship, would it really have been at all surprising? Look back at two other classic examples of command in hopeless situations, and a tangible pattern emerges.

The obvious one is Edward Smith of the Titanic. Once the realisation of his ship’s true situation hit home, Smith seemed to implode spectacularly. Better than anyone, he knew that the lifeboats on board were sufficient for less than half the souls on Titanic, even if every seat was filled. He knew that the nearest rescue ship was four hours away, and that his ship had half that amount of time at best.

Coupled to that was the knowledge that he would ultimately be held responsible for this nightmare situation. That night, everything was left to the isolated efforts of his deck officers. On the port side, Second Officer Lightoller allowed women and children only into the boats. Murdoch, his opposite number on the starboard side, allowed men in as well when no more women were in evidence.

The result? Three times as many people were saved from the starboard side of the Titanic as from the port side, despite the exact same availability of seats on both sides. Another five hundred people could have been got in the existing boats, but Smith did nothing to overrule Lightoller, as he easily could have done. Captain Smith, with his thirty eight years experience at sea, was easily the most famous and feted skipper of any Atlantic liner. But he was simply overwhelmed by the events that overtook him.

Paradoxically, Edward Smith was to prove no more effective at evacuating the Titanic than was Francesco Schettino on the Costa Concordia. Two men, a century apart, bound  by the common ties of the same paralytic sense of stupor.

Another example of command in extremity was Captain Ernst Lindemann of the Bismarck. On the evening of May 26th, 1941, a torpedo wrecked the steering gear of his ship, leaving her limping helplessly towards an overwhelming, avenging pack of Royal Navy warships, all of them baying for the blood of the slayer of the ‘Mighty Hood’. For Lindemann and his young crew of 2,200, the Bismarck had become the biggest condemned cell in the world.

Add to that the fact that Lindemann, like most of his crew, had been awake for almost five days on end, as they fought a desperate series of skirmishes and pitched battles on a storm tossed, enemy dominated ocean, where any ship encountered could almost certainly be deemed hostile. After the torpedo hit, the already exhausted captain spent hours trying in vain to steer the crippled ship to safety by using the propellers.

In the small hours of May 27th, the duty engineer on Bismarck rang the bridge to request a routine order. The Captain’s response stunned him; ‘Ach, do what you like. I’m finished with them’…

Having realised the inevitable doom hurtling toward him, and knowing that he was powerless to either prevent it, or save his crew, Lindemann, like Smith before him, quietly imploded. At the same time, he was seen walking morosely around the bridge, while wearing an open life jacket.

And yes, I think something similar happened to Schettino; a kind of reverse ‘shock and awe’ if you will. What the public man is unwilling to admit, the heart and the brain can not deny. Schettino was overwhelmed by the events he had set in motion and, in the final analysis, he can never rise above that.