Sunday, 16 March 2014

Costa Concordia, Two Years Later.



Get on board, get on board, damn it! Many of you probably will remember the telephone call from the Coastguard to Schettino, in which the enraged captain De Falco ordered captain Schettino to return to the ship from his lifeboat after he abandoned the Costa Concordia while almost 100 people were still on board. That order, spoken by De Falco in coloured Italian words, soon become a motto in Italy, and then spread through YouTube and Facebook across the world. “Italy wants to have steady nerves because we have already done the cabaret route” the Corriere della Sera columnist, Beppe Severgnini said.

A night of errors and lies
The 952 ft. length Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was sailing off Isola del Giglio, Tuscany on 13th January 2012 carrying 4,252 people on board, having just left the harbour of Civitavecchia towards Savona, for a several - days planned cruise across Mediterranean sea.
At 9:45 PM, during a deviation from the computer-programmed route token by captain Francesco Schiettino for an unofficial “touristic-salute” to the local inhabitants, the ship struck her port side on a reef, causing a 70 metre tear in the ship’s hull. As soon as water started to flood the engine rooms, the ship lost her propulsive power and commenced to shift only by means of inertia.  Notwithstanding, Schiettino decided not to notify the nearby port authorities of collision and tried to resume the original route – investigation later revealed this decision to be crucial in the disaster. The SOS was only sent 40 minutes after the impact just as the Concordia was progressively increasing the tilt starboard and running aground in proximity to the coast of the island. The captain Schiettino ordered the ship to be abandoned and Coastguard vessels were sent to the rescue. However, during the rescue operation the captain left the ship jumping into a lifeboat when there were still almost hundred persons on board. Then, the phone call from the captain De Falco to Schiettino occurred, in which the latter was colourfully asked to go on board in order to supervise the rescue. He refused:  “do you realize it’s dark out here and we can’t see anything?” Schiettino defended. “What do you want to do? Do you want to go home? It’s dark so you want to go home?” De Falco replied sarcastically.
During the six-hour evacuation carried by the Coastguard most passengers were brought ashore, although 32 people lost their lives in the Italian waters – one of the two missing bodies were found a few months ago during the refloating of the ship.
Today, two years after that dreadful night, after the shouts and panicking has ceased, it remains a million dollar wreck-business, capable of attracting maritime industry giants which had contracted what is expected to be the biggest salvage operation ever attempted. As of September 2013 the salvage has cost over $800 million.

Who is paying for that tragedy?
The trial in which Schettino faces charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship is still on going. However, on July 2013 five people were found guilty of manslaughter, negligence and shipwreck - the company’s crisis director, the cabin service director and three crew members - receiving sentences between one and two years. The position of the captain seems to be much more severe, who will face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Furthermore, at the last hearing in October 2013, the Moldovan dancer Domncia Cemortan, who was on the bridge with Schiettino testified to be in a romantic relationship with the captain and that she was with him when the disaster occurred. Could her lovely presence have generated a distraction for the captain or is this only a matter for tabloids and gossip?
However, soon after the tragedy another legal battle took place. Passengers are seeking compensation at least to ease the pains of a nightmare that they will never forget.
In order to try to keep at bay individual lawsuits Carnival Cruise Lines – Costa Cruise’s holding company - offered 11,000 euro per passenger compensation plus any extra refunds after reaching an agreement with some consumer groups coordinated by Astoi Confindustria Viaggi. Nevertheless, Codacons association did not sign the agreement, regarding the proposed settlement as “insulting” and suggesting not taking the offer. Only around one third of passengers accepted the deal.
Thus, the American law firm Proner & Proner, Codacons and Bern Law Firm filed a class-action lawsuit together in Miami (where Carnival group is headquartered) considered as the proper place of jurisdiction and for sure a better legal battleground. The team, representing two Italian and four American passengers, stated to possess valid element to avoid the exception of “forum non convenies” - the doctrine employed when the court chosen by the plaintiff is inconvenient for witnesses or poses an undue hardship on the defendants, who must petition the court for an order transferring the case to a more convenient court. The claim, for which the firms will bear all expenses until the final verdict in return for 40% contingency fee, accounted for $10 million damage and $450 million punitive damages – in accordance with the Italian civil code.
On the other hand, another claim was filed in the country of the disaster, whereby the lawyer Giulia Bongiorno gathered about 50 survivors for a class-action lawsuit seeking about $160,000 each, including material damages (physical damages, lost properties) but also moral ones (such as fear and terror suffered). However, those are not the only class-actions commenced and many others survivors joined to them.
Indeed, there will be a lot of work to do for the Carnival and Costa Cruise lawyers in the next few years if they want to make the passengers regret not having accepted the 11,000-euro offer.

Lorenzo Macchi


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