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.