"Should The Captain Go Down With The Ship?"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, May 2, 2014

The captain goes down with his ship is a myth, not a law, or is it?

It is the captain’s responsibility to oversee the safe keeping of his passengers, cargo and crew. In addition, the captain bears responsibility for the actions of his crew. In most nautical conditions, the captain is responsible for all activities of any kind on board his ship.

Reports regarding the operation of the South Korean ferry Sewol vary, but it is known the route taken was a shortcut to save time and money. It is also known to be a very treacherous waterway, with shallows and extreme currents. It is further known the departure of the ferry was delayed by more than two hours due to poor visibility caused by heavy fog.

First and foremost is the question of why the captain was in his quarters when the emergency first began. The answer is that the captain and mates served four hour shifts at the helm.

The captain’s shift had been served, and the third mate was the scheduled helmsman.

Although no law was broken by passing the helm to the third mate, as I see it the captain should have taken into consideration the following facts. Even though he had set the course, it was the very first time the third mate had taken sole control of the ship. The captain should have considered the weather, the fierce currents in the passageway and the mate’s lack of experience. He could have placed a more knowledgeable crewman on the bridge with the third mate before leaving the helm.

Current reports to date state the entire crew have been indicted and jailed. It is a maritime crime in South Korea to abandon ship. Additional members of the shipping company are being indicted and records are being seized. The arrests are of little consequence however if the results are the same as that of the Costa Concordia. Capt. Francesco Schettino was charged and arrested in 2012 but is still unpunished. He has spent most of his incarceration under house arrest and is only now facing charges for manslaughter. Will he ever go to jail or will proceedings continue until all is forgotten?

We watch the horror of the Korean tragedy unfold and have just experienced the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Are we, the self-proclaimed “world leaders” of human rights, failing to follow our own beliefs? We have failed to take Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to trial, (it is presumed to begin in November). We have videos, witnesses and proof positive of his part in the bombings yet he rests comfortably in a detention center, free to build his defense case. Photos of him are everywhere, including the controversial one on the cover of Rolling Stone.

It seems no matter where in the world you are: Italy, Boston, South Korea, as victims, your rights are not considered.

Failure of courts of law to enforce action or levy punishment continue. Although the captain of the ferry, like the captain of the Concordia, was the first to leave the ship, will he be held accountable?

To those who complain about our country’s Coast Guard actions; I want to make the following statement in relation to the above event.

I was the owner and operator of a Coast Guard inspected vessel serving the public for 30 years. The inspections that took place yearly in the water and every five years in dry dock, were rigid. Our Coast Guard would not have allowed a vessel to leave the dock with any one of the numerous equipment failures found on the South Korean ferry.

We are aware the captain going down with the ship is a myth, but responsibility for all on board rested with the captain of the ferry. Will we ever know what punishment he receives or will this tragic event be forgotten like that of the Concordia?

Return to Home Page of Tipsforboating.com


Copyright © Fred Davis. All rights reserved.