On January 13, the Italian cruise ship the Costa Concordia ran aground and eventually sank in one of the largest commercial maritime disasters ever. Although most of the 4200 original passengers were evacuated, 10 passengers and one crew member died in the accident and 23 travelers are still missing. Witnesses say that the accident was a total melee with no regard for the “women and children first” policy — such a cliche that it’s hard to believe it would be forgotten even during an emergency. Meanwhile, the captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, made it out alive and in spite of requests from the Italian Coast Guard that he do so, refused to return to the ship to help passengers once he’d escaped the wreckage. He later claimed that he did not abandon ship intentionally and that there’s a very legitimate, if not slapstick-ish, explanation for his early departure — he slipped and fell onto a life raft that carried him to safety. He slipped and fell into a life raft? Like, on a banana peel? If you say so.
My understanding of a shipwreck, I’ll admit, is based on period dramas like Titanic where the captain goes down with his ship and proudly clings to the wreckage until the last passenger is evacuated. All of the men help the women and children into lifeboats and into lifevests, and then take whatever is leftover for themselves. Of course this is just a movie, but that order just seems to “make sense” to us. Instead, we have a cruise ship, a form of travel that doesn’t even seem particularly adventurous, someone steering the thing who apparently considers his role as “captain” a regular job that he can make excuses about, and passengers who put themselves over those who need help.
Captain Schettino is likely responsible for the disaster in the first place and is being held on potential manslaughter charges. He probably didn’t make things better for himself by claiming that he escaped accidentally, but what about the thousands of other people who brushed past other passengers to save themselves? Do men have the responsibility to get women and children out of harm’s way before saving themselves? Or is the idea antiquated and sexist?