What Happened To The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Cruise Ship?

The Costa Concordia tragedy – where 32 people lost their lives – is one of the worst shipping disasters in recent history. And what makes it worse is that it was completely avoidable – with one man taking more of the blame than any other.

That was the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. But what was his role in the incident, and what happened to him as a result? Let’s find out.

The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino.
Francesco Schettino

What Happened To Captain Schettino Of The Costa Concordia?

Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia was found to have been responsible for the incident where the ship ran aground. He was also found guilty of abandoning the passengers on the ship, and was jailed as a result of his crimes.

Schettino is ruined as a captain – his series of decisions were found to be directly responsible for the loss of life on the ship, and also for preserving his own safety rather than following his legal obligations to care for the ship and the passengers onboard. 

He will spend many years in jail, and once released he will surely never work as the captain of a cruise ship again.

Why Did The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Change Course?

The reason Captain Schettino changed the course of the ship was to carry out a sail-by salute of the island of Giglio, where the ship sails near the coast to ‘salute’ the residents. He had successfully performed this manoeuvre previously, but on this occasion, it caused the grounding of the ship.

What costa concordia looks like before sinking
Kate Hopkins from Seattle, WA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A sail-by salute was not part of the approved sailing route from Costa – indeed, the cruise line has confirmed that Schettino was responsible for the decision to try the manoeuvre, and denied any knowledge that he would do it.

So, why did he want to do it? It’s essentially a captain showing off. He wanted to show off ‘his’ ship to the island residents and show off to the passengers onboard as they sailed close to the island. He also knew that there was a former cruise ship captain on the island who would ‘appreciate’ the gesture.

But he deviated from the approved route for a sail-by salute – why? He later claimed he was navigating by sight, and that he knew the waters well.

What Did The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Do Wrong?

Captain Schettino was found to have deviated from the agreed route for his sail-by salute, which led to the ship running aground. He also abandoned the ship and passengers, when he had a duty to remain onboard.

Costa Concordia's side view
Cyr0z from Marmaris, Turkiye, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest mistake that Captain Schettino made was deviating from the approved course and sailing too close to the shore. It was this decision which made the ship strike a rock and begin taking in water, ultimately causing the ship to list and the loss of 32 lives onboard.

Part of the problem was that Schettino was on the ship’s bridge with Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan, who later confirmed she was having an affair with Schettino. This led many to speculate that the captain was distracted and was not properly carrying out his duties.

It’s worth noting at this point that the Costa Concordia captain had a wife, Fabiola Russo. He also has a child. Cemortan was his girlfriend, while his wife was at home. 

Once the ship had started taking on water, Schettino made his next mistake – he refused to raise the alarm. He later claimed that he wanted to avoid causing panic. 

He didn’t alert the cruise line about the incident immediately either, and he reportedly lied to the coast guard about the incident, which kept rescue boats away. He may have even ordered passengers away from muster stations. However, he did eventually raise the alarm and told guests to abandon ship.

People started to leave, but then with around 300 people left on the ship, Schettino left the ship. A captain is supposed to remain with the ship until the last person has left – this isn’t just an act of nobility but is a legal responsibility.

He refused to return to the ship despite being ordered to do so, and instead made his way to shore.

Why Did The Captain Of Costa Concordia Leave The Ship?

The reason Captain Schettino left the Costa Concordia is purely assumed to be an act of self-preservation. Schettino claims he fell off the ship when it turned over, but this is heavily disputed, especially considering his refusal to get back onto the ship.

Costa Concordia sinking
Caption: User:paolodefalco75, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Schettino said that he would have remained with the ship if he could, but that he fell and his lifeboat was not moving. He was found dry when he got to the shore, which suggests he was likely lying – if he had fallen directly into a lifeboat then he would surely have been injured.

It’s pretty clear that Schettino cared more about his own safety than that of his passengers and crew. He had the opportunity to do the right thing and return to the ship, but he didn’t. His priority was getting himself to shore – no matter what it meant for those left on the ship.

To be clear on how serious this was, it’s worth reviewing the timeline. Schettino left the ship at 11.30pm, and by 1am there were still 100 passengers on the ship. By 3am – over three hours after he’d left, and with ample time for him to return, there were still between 40 and 50 people on the ship.

Of those, 32 people died. It may have been that Schettino couldn’t have saved those lives by being on the ship, but he had a responsibility to help the survivors to escape safely at least.

Did The Costa Concordia Captain Get Back On Board?

The captain of the Costa Concordia refused to board the ship again after abandoning it. He was ordered to return to the ship by the coast guard, and offered the means to do so, but he declined. He claimed that he would’ve returned if he could.

According to Schettino’s own version of events, he fell from the cruise ship and then couldn’t return to it due to his lifeboat being stationary and it being too dark. He got into contact with Gregorio de Falco, the on-duty commander of the Italian coast guard, to report that he was no longer on the ship.

Recordings of conversations between de Falco and Schettino show that de Falco accused Schettino of abandoning his passengers, and even included the line “Vada a bordo, cazzo”, which literally translates as “F**k, get on board!”.

In the end, Schettino was one of the first from the ship to reach land. He claimed that he would’ve gone back to the ship if a helicopter was available. He was offered a dinghy by a police officer from the island, but declined the offer. It was this police officer, Carlo Galli, who later testified that Schettino was dry when he was found.

As a result of his refusal to get back on the ship, and the decision to abandon the ship in the first place, Schettino was pilloried in the media. He gained the nicknames “Captain Coward” and “Captain Calamity” and was even referred to as “Italy’s most hated man” in the tabloids.

Was The Costa Concordia Captain Drunk?

There was a lot of speculation that Captain Schettino was drunk when the Costa Concordia ran aground, and some passengers claimed to have seen him drinking wine and doing drugs regularly. However, he tested negative for drugs or alcohol on the night of the incident.

Whether or not Schettino was a regular drinker or someone who took cocaine, as some people claimed in the aftermath of the Concordia incident, we don’t know. All we know is that he was not under the influence of either during the events of the Costa Concordia disaster.

Was The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Found Guilty?

Francesco Schettino was found guilty of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck, and abandoning his passengers. His trial lasted 19 months and he subsequently appealed twice, unsuccessfully.

Guilty or not guilty?

Before we get into the details of the trial, it’s worth covering the period between the incident and court proceedings. Schettino was placed in temporary custody following the sinking, and then released to house arrest. In July that year, he was released from house arrest but told to remain in Meta di Sorrento.

The cruise line put the blame for the incident onto Schettino, and fired him in 2012, refusing to pay his legal fees. His trial began later, with his first appearance in court being in December 2014.

He was charged with manslaughter of the 32 people who lost their lives on the ship. He was also charged with causing a maritime accident, of abandoning the ship while people remained onboard, and for failing to cooperate with rescue services. He was found guilty of the first three charges.

What Sentence Did The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Get?

When Captain Schettino was found guilty in his trial related to the Costa Concordia disaster, he was sentenced to spend sixteen years in jail, as well as a further five-year banning order from navigation on any ship.

The jail sentence was broken down by the following:

  • 10 years for manslaughter of the passengers and crew who died
  • 5 years for causing the shipwreck in the first place
  • 1 year for abandoning his passengers

Many people criticised the sentence, claiming it was too lenient. There was anger that Schettino was only going to be sentenced to 10 years in prison for the death of 32 people.

Originally the prosecution had been pushing for a much longer sentence – they wanted a total sentence of 26 years and 3 months, broken down as:

  • 14 years for multiple manslaughters
  • 9 years for causing the shipwreck
  • 3 years for abandoning the shipwreck
  • 3 months for failing to contact the authorities as soon as the incident happened

Other crew members were sentenced for their part in the tragedy too, but their sentences were all given as part of a plea bargain, and were much lesser than Schettino’s. They were all jailed for between 12 and 34 months for various crimes including manslaughter, the chaotic evacuation, and other mistakes during the timeline of events.

Did The Captain Of The Costa Concordia Go To Jail?

Captain Schettino did go to jail for his part in the disaster. He originally appealed against his jail sentence twice, but failed both times. After the second failure, he reported to the Rebibbia prison in Rome to begin his stint in jail.

Guy in jail

It took Schettino some time to finally begin his sentence. His original court case ended in February 2015, but he lodged his appeal soon after. The Italian appeals court eventually upheld the original sentence decision in May 2016, but Schettino didn’t give up.

He took his appeal to Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation, and a year later, on 12th May 2017, his sentence was again upheld. Five years after the original disaster, Schettino finally reported to prison to begin his sentence.

Is The Costa Concordia Captain Still In Jail?

Francesco Schettino is still in jail – his sentence was for 16 years and he began in 2017, when he was 57 years old. If he sees out his full sentence, he will be released from prison in 2033, when he is 73 years old.

There’s a chance he could be released early, but it’s expected he will at least serve the majority of his sentence. Some people have called the punishment harsh, claiming that he has been made a scapegoat, but the cruise line has claimed that the sentence is balanced.

Final word

If Captain Francesco Schettino hadn’t taken the risky move to carry out the sail-by salute (navigating by his own eyes), then the Costa Concordia wouldn’t have hit the rock, and the 32 people who lost their lives would still be with us.

He is rightly in prison for his crimes – and cruise ship captains will no doubt have seen the consequences for his negligible behaviour. If they didn’t already know how important it was to make safe decisions with routes and to stay with the ship until everyone is accounted for, then they certainly do now.

The captain was not the only one at fault, and Costa Cruises has learned lessons on how to make it easier to deploy lifeboats when a ship is listing – lessons which other cruise lines have learned from as well.

Cruises are very safe methods of travel, and no captain would take the same risks as Schettino did after seeing how the Concordia disaster unfolded.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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