After Concordia: A Tale of Two Captains

January 17, 2012 | By | 24 Comments

Precisely how is a captain supposed to act when a large ship encounters an emergency such as the one Costa Concordia faced on Friday night? Hitting the history books, we found a scenario with some similarities to Friday’s accident — but with a captain who reacted a lot differently.
Henrik Kurt Carlsen was at the helm of a cargo ship, Flying Enterprise, in 1951, shuttling coffee, iron, a dozen Volkswagens, antiques and passengers from Hamburg, Germany, to New York. He had barely made much headway when the ship encountered a wicked storm, according to the Ocean Weather Services.
Passengers and crew heard several loud bangs, like gunshots. The ship had been thrashing about in a violent storm near the English Channel for hours. The result? Large gashes on both the port and starboard sides.
Carlsen attempted to turn and reposition the ship closer to land, hoping to get to any port in France or England. Flying Enterprise listed at such a severe angle — almost 90 degrees — that the crew couldn’t launch lifeboats. Passengers were forced to jump into the cold water and await rescue by naval vessels.
Compare that to Costa Concordia. The ship was just a few hours out of port when passengers heard loud noises like gunshots. With a huge gash sliced into the ship’s hull, Captain Francisco Schettino, according to some experts, tried to steer the ship closer to shore to make evacuation easier. But the list of the ship made lowering lifeboats tricky, and many passengers and crewmembers chose to swim to safety in the cold water.
But that’s where the similarities stop. Carlsen not only stayed aboard the listing ship until the passengers and crew were rescued, but he remained for five additional days, to await a salvage tugboat. (The ship eventually sunk.) Officials are investigating whether the Costa Concordia’s captain was on shore long before all of his passengers and crew were evacuated, as some reports indicate.
The U.S. Coast Guard ruled Flying Enterprise’s loss was caused by circumstances beyond the control of the captain and crew. Costa Cruise’s Chief Executive Officer Pier Luigi Foschi said on Monday that “significant human error on the part of the ship’s master” likely caused the Concordia accident.
Carlsen received a hero’s welcome upon return to terra firma. He was awarded a medal for his attempts to save the ship. He received a ticker tape parade in New York. Hollywood agents offered to buy the rights to his story. Compare that to Schettino, who was arrested and jailed on charges of abandoning ship and manslaughter.
Hollywood may come calling for his story, too, but for all the wrong reasons.
Get full coverage of the Costa Concordia incident.
Subscribe to the Lido Deck.
    Please share this post!


    24 Responses to “After Concordia: A Tale of Two Captains”

    1. Brian
      January 17th, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

      Great story. Was a movie ever made?

    2. Kim
      January 17th, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

      BIG difference as well was this guy didn’t CAUSE the accident because of some stupid stunt like this guy did.

    3. Elissa Leibowitz Poma
      January 17th, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

      No movie, I’m afraid, but there is a book — Frank Delaney’s “Simple Courage – A True Story of Peril on the Sea” (Random House, 2006). Also, the History Channel program “Deep Sea Detectives” filmed the wreck in a 2005 episode.

      Interesting factoid: The captain of Flying Enterprise died in 1990 and was buried at sea at the precise spot where the ship sunk. So this captain eventually did go down with his ship.

    4. John McDonnell
      January 17th, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

      I remember Capt. Carlsen and the Flying Enterprise on the news when I was in High School. He was asked on the news about donations, and he asked all donations be made to the Mariner’s Chapel at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. I was so inspired that I applied and graduated from that institution, and have since sailed for nearly 50 years, many as Captain. Captain Schettino, from what I can understand, was a disgrace to the profession. Sadly many cruise captains are selected for charisma, and not for professional competency, and often get really big egos. What a shame. John

    5. Franke Sinker
      January 18th, 2012 @ 10:23 am

      The captain of the Carnival Corp owned Costa Concordia appears to be arrogant and cowardly. I think there is a bigger problem with Carnival Management that trickles down to the personel. We have taken several Carnival cruises since 2005. Our final cruise with Carnival was 2 years ago. If we had problems with management once (or even twice) we would be forgiving. Carnival lied to us before a few of our cruises and they have lost all credibility as far as we are concerned.

    6. Steve G
      January 18th, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

      Schettino supposedly has a history of disobeying orders. How he was ever promoted to ship’s captain is beyond me. After he pulled a very similar maneuver back in August, he should have been reprimanded and stripped of his position (assuming Costa did not sanction his course change at that time as he claims). The mayor of Giglio sent him a thank you note which must have impressed the bosses and smoothed over any potential issues. Whatever the reason he repeated the maneuver (to show off his boat or to make his head waiter happy), he should be thrown in prison for the rest of his life. He alone caused the deaths of at least 11 people. If not for the heroics of many others, far more people would have died. This is a humanitarian, environmental and economic disaster of epic proportion. Schettino’s name will become synonomous with cowardice and corruption. Let’s hope the world never forgets him and what he did.

    7. Erick
      January 18th, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

      Let’s hope this tragedy helps to do something with the Egos of the senior officers on board cruise ships, they are the ones always breaking the rules, dating passengers and showing off, and in the end the crew is the one that works like crazy to make the ship work.

      I’m sure that if somebody had said something about that maneuver to the captain his career would have been threatened….

    8. Graham C
      January 19th, 2012 @ 3:49 am

      For Brian

      If you want videos do a search on this website:-

      Flying Enterprise, Tug Turmoil, Captain Carlsen

      No movie though

      Lots more stuff there too, a wonderful site..

    9. richard roller
      January 19th, 2012 @ 3:52 am

      I agree that Schettino was probably an egotistic ,vain ,and incompetent Captain–and clearly responsible for the accident and loss of life.
      However, let us wait for the calm of a sensible enquiry to determine the reasons for Schettino’s apparently appalling lack of leadership.
      My guess is that He had to have been in deep shock and denial –and quite probably unable to function logically as in negative panic.
      Of course He should have acted in a better manner and taken the lead–but I bet He was so stunned at what his actions had achieved that He was struggling to believ it had actually happened.–As time went on, the magnitude of the disaster , the cost in cash terms and lives, his career ,his family, his world wide disgrace would have overwhelmed a man who was not it seems ,by his make up, a person of iron resolve or a born leader of men.

      This is not a person who borrowed your car and crashed it through reckless driving–embarrassing though it would be .This is a person who singlel handedly destroyed one of the largest cruise ships, severely damaged the reputation of his company, killed numerous individuals and must be finding it hard to believe that it really did happen.–No wonder his actions seem weird.–Stress not cowardice is as much the reasons for his actions and crass comments as in \falling into a life boat\.
      It’s easy to critisise but you have to put yourself in his position,It is simply unimaginable–yes unimaginable.If you have not been exposed to EXTREME stress in work –of your own making, where a situation has instantly developed that you think will destroy instantly everything you worked for– you cannot begin to judge .Thus I have some sympathy for the way the man acted –or failed to act .–Deep trauma ,disbelief, denial, panic,fear of the future –a toxic cocktail for a weak man to handle!

    10. m.Cummings
      January 19th, 2012 @ 10:54 am

      We were on the Nieuw Amsterdam in Nov when we hit bad weather after leaving the Straits of Gibralter heading for Madera. The Captain had to deal with course changes /bad weather and disgruntled/sick passengers. Not to mention some passengers with accidents and heart issues. He was calm, organized and kept us well informed at all times. I can’t say the same for all of the crew but that is another story. We have never cruised on Costa and I do not think we ever will!!!!

    11. marlenegoesbyebye
      January 19th, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

      I have cruised many times, so my comments are about the captain and what he did knowingly, and what far reaching effects this causes the universe that he was in charge of. The over 1,000 on board employees who now do not have a job, that rely on the money some of them have to send back to their families, they are with out work now.
      The suppliers of the ships that rely on them for their economies food,soap,lotions,brochures etc etc.
      Not including the hard working travel agents who book these trips and the revenue they are about to lose because of the cancellations and re booking time lost.
      The future sailors of cruises that might change their minds because of this senseless tragedy.
      Our economy is very fragile right now world wide, imagine if Sheettino, would of used simple intelligence> where the ship would be now in another port where thousands get off and spend money etc so all those ports who rely on the ship lost revenue again etc,,, not including the final situation the company lost revenue for the ship that is now out of service.
      How the company reacts to the passengers will show how the company treats its workers trickle down effect for a lost vacation trauma,return plane fare lost items etc.However they are insured against everything including lawsuits., passengers will have little recourse from this event it will be held up in court for years the captain will go to prison and the blame will only be put on him. Not the person who hired him, not the company who believed in him to run this beast,and the people who trusted him to sail this ship into a beautiful vacation now ruined. My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones, to the injured both mentally and physically, but most of all the to the trusting public who chose Costa./Carnival cruise lines,thinking they were on a quality ship, NOT.
      Shame on the CEO of the company who remarked that sensationalism from passengers was grossly exaggerated, undermining their experience and trauma,,,, in today’s Italian press,,,,she was not there to experience it all,,,,shame on the company for letting her comment like that, shame on the company for not having a back up plan to help passengers in this time, and removing themselves from all accountability when it happened before,in another port different ship.
      The biggest shame goes on the judge for house arrest of this Captain. People are dead and missing some are seriously injured and some will be traumatized for life from this event…All in all yes I will cruise again with hopefully a better cruise line who respects its passengers, because without passengers, who will pay those grossly inflated salaries of those ceos and presidents? Ah you got it we do so speak up to change things in the industry so if it does happen again we are more protected than the companies are.

    12. Marcie
      January 21st, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

      How did this captain, get his job and what is his education and experience ??
      How did this captain get this far ?
      Maybe he Knows Someone. Who Hired Him ?

      I have many comments but most are reflected in other people’s comments above….

    13. Dave Morris
      January 23rd, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

      The Concordia incident will probably lead to the phrase “pulling a Schettino” i.e. creating a disaster and then trying to run away. It might be funny if not so sad and pathetic.

    14. Beatrice
      January 25th, 2012 @ 9:26 am

      I’ve just come back from a cruise (VIA AUSTRALIAS from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas passing through Cape Horn) which – in particular conditions – can be much more dangerous than one in the Mediterranean sea but I encountered wonderful and professional people on board.
      So, please, don’t associate all cruises to Captain Schettino. He will have to pay for his mistakes, once the Court has established his responsibility.

    15. Val
      January 25th, 2012 @ 11:41 am

      I cruised on a Carnival ship last summer. While the cabin stewards and wait staff were delightful and very accomodating, I found the security type officers on the deck to be arrogant and not friendly at all. We had an incident where there were empty deck chairs but other passengers claimed they were holding them for friends. After a half hour we asked security to tell the people they couldn’t hold the chairs. The waitstaff paged someone and he took his time getting to us talking and joking with the other security officers while we saw him walking our way. When he finally reached us he really didn’t want to help at all but he finally did. However not before behaving as though we had disturbed him from having fun with his other security friends. I don’t think I’ll ever travel Carnival or Princess again. The best line is Royal Caribbean. I may try Norweigan though.

    16. David S.
      January 25th, 2012 @ 11:43 am

      If you watched the aftermath of the \miracle in the Hudson\ you saw that pilot state that airplane pilots aren’t hired from the ranks of air force seasoned fighter pilots anymore. You go to school, complete the course, and work your way up. No combat, no emergency ordeal, no battle testing, nothing. This is what is happening in the shipping industry as well. Airlines, and I’m sure cruise ship companies, cheap out on the crew, and hire for looks rather than proven competence. Examine Schettinos record and see if it looks lIke that. If the Company was aware of this behavior and did nothing, the buck stops there. MORE regulation, more inspection, more maintenance required, more crew training–that’s what’s needed. Costs more money? What your life worth? The crew—look at who is hired and how frequently they change. They are the ones whose execution of job in bad situations will either save you or kill you. Lastly, people need to accept getting into lifeboats early and that should be part of the drill. Any ship at the first sign of distress needs to launch lifeboats early and not wait until its too late. With todays communications you are better off in the boat awaiting rescue. Passenger inconvenience? Treat it as part of the cruising adventure! Alternatively, sit on the couch at home.

    17. valerie
      January 26th, 2012 @ 9:57 am

      Franke Sinker, I think you are correct. It seems that Carnival has an arrogant management style and thus you get what happened on the Concordia pure arrogance and a lack of leadership. I can’t say that I have not experienced this before on Carnival. I am not looking to cruise anytime soon but when I do or if I do it want be on Carnival or its subsidary companies.v

    18. Greg
      January 26th, 2012 @ 10:45 am

      Every captain should be required to sail a small sailing boat accross the Atlantic in the Winter. This would once and for all give them a healthy respect for the power of the Sea and how even the slightest error can lead to death.

    19. Harry
      January 26th, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

      As I recall Capt Carlsen of the ‘Flying Enterprise’ was joined on board by the mate of the rescue tug and both worked to try to save the vessel.

    20. James Clark
      January 27th, 2012 @ 10:45 am

      Our supposedly cowerdly Italian Captain had gone straight to the side that was listing to ensure it was evacuated first, I certainly would rather be on the otherside. Then perhaps he saw it a better option to fall in to a life boat since the Ship was about to fall on him. I think he was coordinating things, and not trying to asscend one of 2 ladders which were top to bottom with passengers fleeing. There would have been reliable power and comunications on board the life boat as opposed to the bridge which most certainly would have been powerless as soon as it was half submerged. Pretty much all the bodies were found on lower decks and there were very few bodies considering the scale of things, thus making me think the evacuation of the inside of the ship was done exceptionally well, and alas some of the poor crew who were trying to ensure this perished. The public are jumping on the band waggon and making things seem a whole lot worse than they acctually were. Anybody with boat/ship knowledge should recognise what acctually happened from the AIS track alone, that is if we are to believe Lloyds AIS logging. Time scales boat speed and manouvering to the final resting place. Ok the initiall crash was a mistake unless it was actually a Submarine shadowing the ship causing excessive ground effect on the ship. Never the less, I do not think there is anybody who could calm 3000 passengers alone (unless he had a highly trained crew to relay his decissions into action- which Cpt Schettino did have and had trained). Forget he possibly crashed due to bad judgment and think for a moment what a hero he would be hailed if this happened 150Nm offshore and there were the same survivor death ratio. He was unlucky to have too many speculators watching and critising as things unfolded. That coast guard is not a hero, he is a berk who would not listen to or appreciate what Schettino was up against at the precise time of the conversation. It would be easy to say to someone get back on that boat if you are sat in an office. The coast guard was a bully and was only trying to establish numbers to relay to his rescue teams, and because he couldnt give his men an answer, he threw his toys out of the pram straight away. The whole story and situation has been very badly managed by those with authority and because news and lawyers want someone to blame to make it easy they selected some tiny fragments of a collosal ordeal to pin it for the time being on one man. Who actually seemed up untill the time when the boat would have sank (in theory- had he not positioned the ship on the shore) to be in the right places at the appropriate times and keeping in constant contact with his employers about the situation after the collision as it unfolded to him and the boat slowed.

    21. bg mcqueen
      January 27th, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

      there is no way that the captain can avoid the criticism that is leveled at him, an no way that anyone who was NOT there can begin to appreciate the situation (and evidently has not seen any of the passenger videos)…the captain is a coward and there is ZERO excuse he can give!!!!

    22. Ray
      January 27th, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

      My wife and I have sailed with Holland America several times in the past 5 years and we’ve never been disappointed with the ship or the crew. Very professional and accommodating.. from the cabin stewards to the senior-ranking officers.

    23. Ann Timke
      January 28th, 2012 @ 12:30 am

      I have been on nearly 50 cruises and a number of lines. My husband and I were quite young, compared to most of the passengers we met, when we started cruising in the early 70’s. Over the years, and with the advent of the mega ships, I have often observed the ever growing difference in the ships’ officers of those early years of our cruising and those of our latest cruise (Nov. 2011). While difficult to describe completely, I can only say that I often can not believe the behavior of various officers. If one has not observed this change, it may not be noticed. Indifference to behaving in very immature ways with passengers in full view, groups of officers (deck and bridge) who seem to have no prohibitions against vying for the attention of attractive (especially casio) employees. I have observed officers eating, often very late (especially in the lido restaurant closed to passengers in the late hours, demonstrating behavior which certainly does not inspire confidence.

      Another interesting observation, when we began cruising EVERY lifeboat had an assigned officer. I remember only thinking \how strange\, not really fearful, when I began to realize more and more non English speaking, non officers, and even non deck hands were assigned to be in \charge\ of lifeboats. I assumed the ships were so large the lines had to resort to assignment of cabin help to be in charge of lifeboats in an emergency. This seems to be in keeping with the multiple roles all employees seem to play these days. Obviously this is a matter of profit. While once you never, and I mean NEVER, saw your primary waiter in the dining room \doubling\ on the lido deck by day serving drinks, or casino dealers working in the gym as \trainers\. None of this matter that much to me, but when I began it see the change in assignment of lifeboats, and realized that while well meaning, these young, multicultured, individuals, many so new to ships and the seas they are still having bouts of seasickness, I began to worry. Not enough to keep me from my love of cruising, but it is already a well know fact (ask any Navy, Marine, Merchant Marine veteran) that in a true emergency it is VERY UNLIKELY that all life boats will be usable. When ships went to \room videos\ and large theatre \musters\, I assummed this was a concession to this fact. In a desperate emergency a ship is going to list, life boats can not be lowered from a listing ship in most cases. The combination of what the circumstances may be in a drastic emergency (like the Concordia), and putting young, frightened, individuals, many away from their home and families for the first time \in charge\ of such an emergency, is, I have always thought, a recipe for tragedy. And unfortunately, we got one, and a double tradegy as it was at the hands of a very immature captain with obviously no maritine or milliary LEADERSHIP skills to rely on. So very sorry for all those on board.

    24. blend
      February 18th, 2012 @ 8:18 am

      the concordiacaptain ruling and abandoning his ship thinking only of himself is a good metaphor of italian society. No meritocracy, only family and corruption. A beautiful country with wonderful people but ruled by the worst persons society generates; arrogant underperforming mafiastyle pricks. Berlusconi the example for them all. God thanks we lost him and hope to put him in jail like a Madoff , but that won’t happen here in italy…

    Leave a Reply

  • Please follow & like us


  • About the Lido Deck

    The Lido Deck is written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, reporting from ships and ports around the world. The daily blog covers cruise news, reviews, advice, and hot topics from the Cruise Critic message boards. Please note: When commenting, Cruise Critic's community guidelines apply.

  • Facebook

  • Recent Posts

  • Categories