Scorned Cruise Ship Captain Not Alone in History

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THE GIST

- Captain Francesco Schettino is accused of failure to offer assistance and abandonment of ship.

- Schettino is hardly the first ship captain to behave less than nobly as their ship went down.

What will likely never be forgotten about the Italian cruise liner disaster is the quickness with which the captain of the Costa Concordia abandoned the sinking ship.

According to investigators, captain Francesco Schettino maneuvered the ship, which was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, too close to shore of the Tuscan Island of Giglio to "make a bow" to the locals. The "significant human error," as described by the ship's owner, Costa Cruises, caused the 114,500-ton liner to capsize just 500 feet from the shore, killing at least 11 people, while 24 remain missing.

According to the Italian police, who have detained Schettino on charges of manslaughter, failure to offer assistance and abandonment of the ship, the captain and some of the crew were among the first to bail into lifeboats.

Considered one of the most infamous crimes in maritime law, Schettino's act of cowardice has many precedents in history.

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"The story of captains abandoning sinking passengers is as old as ships. They are only human," Andrew Lambert, a professor of naval history at King's College, London, told Discovery News.

Schettino, who is denying all charges, is accused of having abandoned the ship on Friday at 23:30, while there were still about 230 people aboard -- including two newborns and four disabled people who were not rescued until 2 a.m.

Coast Guard officers repeatedly urged the captain to return to the Concordia and coordinate the evacuation until everyone was safely on land, but he refused.

"Please ….it's dark…," Schettino cried, according to audio of telephone conversations posted today on daily Corriere della Sera's website.

"Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board," Coast Guard Commander Gregorio Maria De Falco yelled.

Schettino may be a scorned captain today, but one of the most ignominious captains in history is Hugues de Chaumareys, captain of the French frigate Medusa.

On July 2, 1816, the Senegal-bound ship slammed into a reef. De Chaumareys, whose incompetence doomed the voyage, fled for the Medusa's lifeboats along with some upper class passengers and crew, while 147 people set afloat on a makeshift raft.

Initially towed behind the convoy of lifeboats, the raft was ordered cut free by de Chaumareys, who abandoned the passengers to a gruesome fate of murder and cannibalism.

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