By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia wrecked a few days ago and early reports said that it had hit some rocks. Quickly though, reports came out that the captain, Francesco Schettino, had driven the ship closer than normal to those rocks on the way out of port in order to show off the ship to the residents. An article from the New York Times gives more details.
Interviews from some of the over 4,020 passengers of the liner stated in news reports that it was “like the Titanic.”
Only shortly after the shipwreck it was determined that the captain had left the ship early on, and also that he had been seen drinking on the bridge with a young, attractive woman at the time of the crash, and that he had been drinking at dinner before the crash. This indicates to me that the man may have been drunk at the time he made the decision to go closer than was safe to the reef.
Rescue crews had reportedly told the captain to “go back to the ship” and at that time they were in command with the authority to demand that he return. He didn’t return and was subsequently branded a “coward,” as well as taken into custody by authorities for not doing his duty in the time of the wreck. I have a feeling this man’s professional life as a sailor is over, and that he will become an international pariah.
Videos taken showed the passengers lined up, going down the side of the overturned boat on one rope, like a line of ants going to a food source.
The captain finally came up with a story that he somehow believed would show that he was not at fault for leaving the ship early (excuse me if I laugh). He said he had “accidentally fallen into a lifeboat while trying to help rescue efforts.” This single statement, to me, branded the man a psychopath. Dr. Robert Hare said in his book, Without Conscience, that the psychopath’s brain doesn’t work like other brains when it comes to lies. They will tell a lie when there is evidence to show it is a lie right in front of them, they will tell a lie that is so unbelievable that no one would believe it, but they do not “get it” that their lie is totally unbelievable.
Of course a psychopath would also put his own well-being above those of his responsibility, such as the passengers, and would desert a sinking boat on the first available lifeboat. Capt. Schettino leaving first, by itself, would not brand someone a psychopath, when maybe they would only be a coward, or so terrorized that he became unglued and deserted the sinking ship. But being told to “get back on the ship!” and refusing to do so does seem to indicate that he was either totally unglued or had no concern for the passengers.
The other things that the captain did that were irresponsible, like drinking at dinner, and drinking at the time of the crash with the rocks, and steering the boat close to the rocks so that he could show off, all of those things might have just been a day of poor judgment, and would not necessarily make me brand someone with the term psychopath. But those things, in concert with the unbelievable lie, make me think that this man has not only no conscience, but that his brain is unable to distinguish a believable lie from one that is so unbelievable that only a psychopath would tell it.
I’m not sure that there is a lie that would be believable or that would not damn any captain who deserted his ship like Capt. Schettino did. However, a man who was not a psychopath, who had simply panicked and deserted his ship, who otherwise had a moral compass, would show some remorse for what he had done. He would at least show some shame at having failed in a pivotal moment in his life, in which he should have showed some courage and concern for the more than 4,000 lives in his charge.
I think that anyone can “fail” in a moment of horrible terror, in combat or accident. The overwhelming terror of something like a ship capsizing, the panic of the passengers, and possibly also the man being drunk, could account for him deserting the ship early and refusing to do his duty, or letting go of his responsibility. But the unbelievable lie is the one thing, that taken with all the others, that makes me think this man is truly a psychopath.
Here’s another article about the captain by a former commander of the U.S. Coast Guard on CNN.com: