In a previous article, we have listed the reasons why the Costa Concordia cruise passengers will have a strong legal argument to lift the cruise company’s limits of liability under the Athens Convention.
The language contained in the Convention allow the cruise liner to limit is financial liability to a maximum of $72,000 per passenger affected by this tragedy for their personal injury or death. However, Article 13 of the Athens Convention does provide that if a passenger is able to prove that their damage resulted from an act or omission done [ . . . ] recklessly and with the knowledge that such damage would probably result, then the limits of liability of the Athens Convention would not apply.
The latest information coming out of the office of Italian prosecutor Francesco Verusio is the most damning evidence of recklessness yet on the part of Captain Schettino.
In a new audio recording released Thursday, Captain Francesco Schettino is heard communicating with Livorno port authorities after the ship had hit a reef and before the ship began capsizing. In the exchange, a port authority officer tells Schettino that they have heard from a crew member that there had been a major incident during dinner and that plates and glasses had slammed onto passengers.
Schettino was quick to reassure the officer that everything on board was fine and replied that the incident in question was caused by an electrical blackout and that the crew is “verifying the conditions on board“. Captain Schettino failed to mention that the ship had hit a reef.
New accounts by crew members are beginning to surface six days after the incident. French stewart Thibault Francois told French Television that the captain sounded the alarm too late and did not order or instruct the crew to evacuate the ship until it was too late and the ship had already begun listing on its side and taken in a substantial amount of water. Eventually, crew members started lowering lifeboats on their own.
Francois said “the captain asked us to make announcements to say that it was electrical problems and that our technicians were working on it and to not panic”. “There were no orders from the management,” he added.
Another crew member, Mukesh Kumar who was one of the many ship’s waiter said that “the emergency alarm was sounded very late,” only after the ship “started tilting and water started seeping” in. “The ship shook for a while, and then the crockery stated falling all over,” said Indian Kandari Surjan Singh, who worked in the ship’s galley. “People started panicking. Then the captain ordered that everything is under control and said it was a normal electric fault … so people calmed down after that.” As reported by the Associated Press.
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It now sounds that Captain Francesco Schettino attempted to minimize the incident telling the Livorno port authority that the incident was only a blackout and nothing else. He intentionally omitted to advise that the ship had hit a reef. That fact alone unquestionably resulted in the coastal rescue efforts to be delayed by at least 40 minutes. The ship hit the reef at approximately 9:30 p.m. and it is not until 10:10 p.m. that the “Abandon Ship” signal was sounded.
An Italian Judge will have to decide whether lives could have been saved had the port authority been told by Captain Schettino the true nature and potential extent of the seriousness of the incident. The judge will also have to decide whether Captain Schettino was reckless in announcing to passengers that the incident in question was only an electrical issue and that everything was under control. As a result, the evacuation was also delayed until it was clear that the ship was taking water and began capsizing.
In another sad news, the search and rescue efforts found four additional bodies in the wreckage of the ship. The number of fatalities rose to 15. There are still 17 people who remain unaccounted for, including 2 Americans, Barbara Heil and Gerald Heil.
Captain Schettino remains under house arrest. He faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty on charges of manslaughter and abandoning his ship.
Leesfield Scolaro represents victims of cruise ship incidents worldwide. With a cumulative maritime law and cruise ship litigation experience of over 80 years, our firm is a constant and instrumental voice in helping further cruise ship passenger rights. If you believe we can help, contact our Maritime Law Attorneys.