Fear and loathing on the Costa Concordia

The BBC has an extraordinary recording of a conversation between the Italian coast guard and Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia, who has been accused of abandoning ship.

“This is DiFalco,” it begins. “Am I speaking to the captain?”

“Yes, good evening, DiFalco.”

“Tell me your name.”

“This is Captain Schettino.”

“Schettino, listen, there are people trapped on board. You need to go with your lifeboat under the bow of the ship. Go right around. There’s a ladder. Go up the ladder, get on board the ship. You have to get on board, report back how many people there are. Is that clear? Look, I’m recording this conversation.”

Schettino stalls. The conversation escalates, as DiFalco tries to roust him out of complacency.

“Tell me if there are women, children, or anyone that needs assistance. Report back. How many in each of these categories. Look, Schettino, get on board now!*”

“Commander, please!”

“No, not please! You will get on board. Will you assure me that, that you are going on board now?”

Over the course of the three-minute tape, Schettino resorts to all manner of excuses: he’s coördinating with another boat, he’s with the second-in-command, it is getting dark. His fear is as palpable as it is pitiable. He sounds like a teen-ager trying to get out of doing his homework, but what he doesn’t want to do is die.

*UPDATE: Pier Andrea Canei, from Milan, writes that the BBC translation, while accurate enough, misses something in tone: “More like ‘get the f**k back on board.’ It is Italy’s top trending hashtag: #vadaabordocazzo.”

(By Lauren Collins in the New Yorker)

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